All hail fiber: the nutrient so many health professionals, media, magazines, and even friends and family tout as being the one part of our diets that we should always be working on. So, what is fiber all about? Where does it originate, how do we identify different types, how much should we be getting and why, and how can it fit nicely into our diets? Read along and increase your belief in the powers of fiber.
Dietary fiber enters our diet from plants only. That’s right: move aside meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. The reason we can only obtain fiber from fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains is that fiber is in the construction of the inside and outside of plant cell walls. These structures contain healthy, indigestible carbohydrates (fiber) that our small intestines cannot digest and absorb.
We hear that fiber is categorized by solubility, but did you know that characteristics like viscosity, physical weight of the fiber and how well a fiber is fermented are also significant? Soluble fibers themselves form a viscous gel and are fermented by our colon to help lower blood cholesterol. Insoluble [in water] fibers essentially pass through our digestive system untouched, helping things move right along and keeping our bathroom visits at a constant rate. Insoluble fibers may also have a hand in protecting us again colon cancer.
The classifications seem endless, from “resistant starches” in foods like bananas and Simple Truth Organic Pumpkin Seeds, which literally resist digestion, feed friendly gut bacteria (heard of “prebiotics”?), and may lower blood sugar, to “lignans” from foods such as Simple Truth Root Vegetable Chips (parsnips and sweet potatoes) and Simple Truth Organic Frozen Raspberries, which provide extra antioxidants and have “phytoestrogenic” effects to battle heart disease and some cancers. Then there are “beta-glucans,” common in barley and Simple Truth Oats, which boost immune function, and “inulin,” common in the added ingredient chicory root, but also naturally found in artichokes and satisfying Simple Truth Organic Harvest Grain Bread.
Current adult recommendations or “Adequate Intakes” for fiber are 25-38g a day. At present, most of us are only getting around 15g of fiber each day — which may be why we turn to health foods that specifically add fiber to their ingredients, or flock toward the fiber supplement aisle to fill that gap.
Let’s understand more about what this looks like on a nutrition label. Dietary Fiber, as well as Sugar, is a sub-category of Total Carbohydrates on a nutrition panel. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, fiber will be clearly broken down into its “Insoluble” and “Soluble” counterparts, but many times that’s left for you to figure out as it’s not mandatory per FDA (Food and Drug Administration) labeling rules. The “Daily Values” for fiber, expressed on a nutrition label, represent the percentage of a particular food’s serving that contributes to the goal of 25g daily fiber. Additionally, counting “net carbs” means the total grams of fiber (and sugar alcohols) are subtracted from the running total of carbohydrates to yield a number that shows more closely the grams of carbohydrates that will alter blood sugars. This may be effective for some, especially when it comes to breads, pastas and cereals, as it creates a clearer picture of whether the carbohydrates you’re ingesting are of the refined or whole-grain type.
Fact: Fiber helps us feel full by delaying movement through our GI tract. Fact: Fiber decreases the prevalence of high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes and even stroke. Fact: Fiber has been witnessed repeatedly to aid in weight control, thanks in large part to fiber’s presence in nutrient-dense, lower-calorie foods. Last fact: Don’t overhaul your diet overnight if you’ve managed to fall short on fiber for a while. As much as a generous intake of fiber helps us out, it may do the opposite if we rapidly increase fiber without proportionally getting more fluids!
What does pumping up the fiber actually look like on our plates? The childhood rhyme beginning “Beans, beans, the wonderful fruit…” may be on to something. Legumes, in the form of beans, lentils, peanuts and fruits, add soluble fiber to our diets. Think of focusing more on Simple Truth Organic Pinto Beans in your Hispanic-inspired dishes, hummus instead of ranch dip for those Simple Truth Organic Broccoli Florets, trading up chicken noodle for soup made with Simple Truth Green Lentils, a larger focus on trail mixes when packing lunch, and investing in fruit like Simple Truth Organic Blueberries for dessert instead of pies and cakes. How about when it comes to vegetables, oats and grains, we jazz up our salads by throwing in more color, start our days with hot oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon, and opt for Simple Truth Organic Quinoa with herbs as a more commonplace side dish? So, let’s get started!
Molly McBride, RD, LD, is a corporate registered dietitian for The Kroger Company, working through the Kroger Customer Connect (C|c) to provide nutrition, diet, food safety, allergen and other health-related feedback to customers and to the community. She is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Science in General Dietetics and is currently a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati towards her Masters of Science in Nutrition. Molly is involved with the Vegetarian Dietetic Practice Group and holds weight management certificates for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is a Certified Food Safety Manager by the FSP National Registry and her past experiences includes work in many short and long-term care clinical settings. She also is a Zumba fanatic.
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