February Tip: Focus on Fiber

bean_salad

Research shows that fiber plays an important role in preventing numerous diseases, such as heart disease, digestive disorders and certain forms of cancer. In addition to promoting good health, dietary fiber also helps to control diabetes and can benefit blood cholesterol levels.

The two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, are both beneficial to the body and come solely from plant-based foods, not from foods of animal origin (such as meats and dairy products). Insoluble fibers make up the structural parts of plant cell walls and are mainly found in wheat bran, corn bran, whole-grain cereals, beans and peas, and the skins of fruits of vegetables.

Soluble fibers, such as pectin and gums, are found in soy products and within plant cells. Great sources include berries, apples, pears, vegetables, oat bran, barley, prunes, psyllium and flax seed. Soluble fiber may help to lower blood cholesterol levels by binding to bile acids and secreting them. Additionally, soluble fiber forms a gel during digestion, which slows both gastric (or stomach) emptying and the absorption of sugars from the intestine. The delay in sugar absorption helps to keep blood sugar levels under control, which is especially important for people with diabetes.

Foods that are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber help to fill you up and are nutrient-dense, rather than calorie-dense foods. This means they contain few calories for their large volume, due to their low fat and high water content. As such, they are extremely helpful in assisting with weight control. High-fiber foods also require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you’re no longer hungry, causing you to stop eating before you’re Thanksgiving-Day-full! Also, a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and linger longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time.

How much fiber do you need?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) recommends 20 – 35 grams of fiber per day for adult males and females. Most Americans fall short of these recommendations. The following tips will help you fill up on fiber:

1. Bulk up breakfast! Choose a high-fiber, whole-grain breakfast cereal (one that contains at least 5 grams of fiber per serving). You can also add a tablespoon of unprocessed wheat bran to your low fat cottage cheese or Greek yogurt.

2. Switch to whole grains. When buying bread make sure to look at the ingredients list and not just the front of the package label! Look for breads that list whole wheat, whole-wheat flour or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label. You can also experiment with other grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, barley, whole-wheat pasta and bulgur.

3. Use frozen veggies to increase the nutrient content of your homemade soups or sauces. For example, add frozen spinach and broccoli to tomato sauce or frozen peas and beans to soups.

4. Make your snacks count. Try berries with yogurt, raw veggies with low-fat dip, whole grain crackers with hummus, or an occasional (small) handful of raw nuts with dried fruit.

Remember to gradually increase your intake of fiber to avoid intestinal discomfort and be sure to consume plenty of water! I also recommend getting your dietary fiber from whole foods rather than supplements. Fiber-rich foods contain other beneficial nutrients that supplements lack.

Happy “Fiber Focus” February!!!