Ask the Health Coach - Fiber
I have heard that fiber has health benefits but I don’t know what they are. I am trying to lose weight and I have a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol. Will adequate fiber in my diet help with these? How much fiber should I include in my diet?
First of all, there are two types of fiber, water-insoluble and water-soluble, each relating to different health benefits. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your diet helping with digestion and helps food pass through your body more quickly. This type may reduce your risk for colon cancer because it moves the cancer-causing substances through your digestive tract sooner, which prevents them from lingering in your body and having a chance to be harmful. If you struggle with constipation, this is the type of fiber that would help. For the most part, fiber is not metabolized or used by your body; therefore it pushes right through your digestive system. Good sources of insoluble fiber are many vegetables, whole grains and nuts.
Soluble fiber dissolves in fluids and turns into a gel-like substance. It then moves slowly through the digestive system, having a positive reaction with other substances leading to the following health benefits: lower risk for heart disease, lower cholesterol, reduced risk of stroke, some cancers, and gastrointestinal disorders, and controlled blood sugar levels.
In combination with a healthy diet and exercise, fiber can help manage weight. A high-fiber diet usually has fewer calories but the same volume of food. Fiber also helps with weight management because foods with fiber take longer to eat (additional chewing) which makes your stomach feel full sooner so you are less likely to overeat. Meals with fiber also make you feel full longer.
The daily fiber recommendations are between 20g and 38g, based on your gender and age. The average American eats only 10 to 15g each day! If you start to increase fiber into your diet, start slowly, a rapid increase can cause bloating and gas – and be sure to drink plenty of fluids!
Tips for increasing fiber intake:
• Eat a high-fiber cereal for breakfast.
• Choose whole-grain products (breads, pastas, rice, cereals) as opposed to grains that are “enriched”. Look for grains with at least 2g of fiber per serving.
• Add fresh or frozen vegetables to soups, sauces, and/or pastas.
• When snacking choose fruits. Eat whole fruits, including the skins.
• Eat more legumes (beans and lentils) by adding them to meals.
• Avoid wilted vegetables or bruised fruits.
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