Benefits of Fiber by Christine Zellers, Assistant Professor/Educator Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Department of Family and Community Health Sciences
There are advertisements on TV and the internet for products that boost fiber intake with drinks or powders, but good old fashion fruits, vegetables and whole grains are the best way to increase dietary fiber every day. The benefits of regular fiber intake add up to better overall health however American’s are falling short of recommendations for fiber intake. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends women consume 25 grams of fiber daily and men 38 grams up to age 50. Women over 50 should have 21 grams of fiber daily while men require 30 grams. On average Americans are getting about 10-15 grams per day, well below the required need for fiber. Examples of high fiber foods are whole grains, nuts, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. Eating more fruits and vegetables supports greater fiber intake and a better functioning body.
While Americans look for the next quick fix or miracle diet to stay healthy and live longer the secret may not be so illusive after all. Increasing dietary fiber intake every day may hold the key to disease prevention, maintaining a healthy weight and living longer. Fiber helps food move through the body properly by normalizing bowel movements and maintaining bowel health to help prevent colon cancers. The movement fiber creates in the digestive system can lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels too. Fiber provides a feeling of fullness that assists with maintaining a healthy weight and preventing obesity. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs in water while insoluble fiber doesn’t. Oatmeal is a good example of a soluble fiber, and it lowers the risk of heart diseased by attaching to cholesterol particles and moving them out of the body. Soluble fiber isn’t well absorbed and doesn’t add to blood sugar spikes which reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and can assist with diabetes control. Soluble fiber increases the sensation of fullness and supports healthy gut bacteria. Brown rice, seeds and fruit skins are good example of insoluble fiber which creates a feeling of fullness, makes the body regular and can stop frequent feelings of hunger. Summer is a great time to add more fiber because fruits and vegetables are local and in season in New Jersey.
Add high fiber foods gradually to increase overall intake and reach the recommended daily allowances. The highly processed foods most American’s eat every day are poor sources of fiber and can contribute to chronic disease and obesity. Whole grains like quinoa and whole wheat flour, berries, and nuts are examples of insoluble fibers and apples, oats, and carrots are soluble fibers. Eating a variety of these foods will keep the body functioning properly. To determine the amount of dietary fiber in a packaged product look on the nutrition facts label; less than 5% daily fiber is a low amount and 20% or greater per serving is high. It’s important to add fiber gradually so that it doesn’t overwhelm the digestive system by creating stomach disruptions or gas. As with any change its best to make healthy improvements a little at a time and stick with them for a while to see valuable results.