Did you know that the American Heart Association recommends eating 6-8 servings of grain foods a day? While this may seem like a lot, the reality is that whole grains are easy to consume if you make a few simple dietary choices.
Fiber isn’t just in grain-based products like cereals and hot oatmeal; many fruits and vegetables also contain decent amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber. Apples, broccoli, carrots, celery, peas, lentils, nuts, and raspberries are all great choices, and many of these foods also contain a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
How To Know if You Are Not Getting Enough Fiber
First of all, are you constipated? Some estimates put nearly a third of all Americans in that category. Constipation is one of the first signs that you are not getting enough fiber. By definition, this means that you are having fewer than three bowel movements each week, and they can be hard to pass.
By slowly increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, drinking more water, and getting regular exercise, you can relieve symptoms of constipation without having to rely on laxatives (as always, first check with your doctor to see if any vitamins or medications you take cause constipation).
Another sign you may not be getting enough fiber could be your general well-being. If you are frequently tired or feeling nauseous, try tracking what you eat. Doctors have found that people who follow a low-carb/high-protein diet have higher cholesterol, which may contribute to poor overall health, as well as other potential health complications.
The Benefits of Fiber
Weight loss: One of the nicest perks of a fiber-rich diet is that it fills you up faster, and leaves you feeling full for long periods of time. This, in turn, means that you eat less, which can result in weight loss. Indeed, insoluble fiber passes through your body without giving you too many calories.
Preventative medicine: Experts have found that people who get their daily allowance of fiber while eating a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol have a reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, digestive conditions, and heart disease. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol and gets rid of it through stools, thereby lowering total blood cholesterol levels. In particular, studies have shown that fiber can decrease the risk of colon cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1 in 20 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime, so eat fiber to stay healthy!
Detox aid: Fiber increases the bulk of a person’s stool, essentially picking up unhealthy toxins and carcinogens as it makes its way through the intestines and speeds them out. Having regular bowel movements can also prevent Diverticulosis (little pouches that form on the intestine walls that result from constant straining).
Watch Out For Refined Foods
Although they are made from grains, refined fibers have been ground into a powder which removes the bran and germ from the grain. Yet it is exactly these parts that have the most health benefits! In truth, refined fibers actually have little nutritional value. Whole fibers, on the other hand, can do the following:
- Supply a high source of fiber, which has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels and helps deter diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
- Make you feel full for a longer period of time, which can result in weight loss.
- Provide your body with many necessary vitamins, such as vitamin B, folate, iron, and selenium.
Look out for these whole-grain options when you visit the grocery store:
- Bran flake cereal
- Brown rice
- Bulgur flour
- Corn tortillas
- Whole-wheat bread and pasta
- Wild rice
Types of Fiber
Now that you know the difference between refined and whole fibers, let’s talk about insoluble and soluble fibers (see here). Both are good for you, but act differently in your gut.
- Insoluble fiber: Because it is not digestible, insoluble fiber bulks up one’s stool and facilitates bowel movements by absorbing water as it moves through your digestive tract. Foods include: avocado, bananas, celery, green beans, nuts, potato skins, seeds, and zucchini.
- Soluble fiber: While it too is not digestible, soluble fiber is fermented in the colon and slows digestion down, giving you a long-lasting feeling of being full. Foods include: apples, barley, berries, carrots, oats, onions, peas, pears, sweet potatoes, and soybeans.
The American diet is heavy on processed foods made with refined fibers and carbohydrates. This results in most Americans getting less than half of their daily requirement of fiber. Someone may think that the foods they eat are rich in fiber, but instead, they may be refined fibers which have little benefit. As a general rule of thumb, the more processed a food item is, the less fiber it contains. Similarly, the more fiber you eat, the fewer calories you will consume over the course of your day.