By Jessica Meuleners RD, LMNT, Extension Assistant
When trying to eat healthy, we often spend too much time avoiding certain foods rather than increasing healthy ones. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, which is a great time to focus on eating more fiber.
What is Dietary Fiber?
Fiber can be found in many plants we eat such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Put simply, dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body cannot digest. Dietary fiber is often split into two categories:
- Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber does not dissolve in water and can be found in foods such as whole wheat flour, nuts, beans, cauliflower, potatoes, and green beans.
- Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water but is not digested by the body. It can be found in foods such as oats, apples, oranges, pears, and cucumbers.
Some foods such as oatmeal or beans contain both insoluble and soluble fiber. Different types of fiber can be found in various amounts depending on the food. Therefore, it is important to include both types of fiber as part of a healthy diet.
Why Should I Eat Fiber?
Fiber is best known for moving food efficiently through your body and preventing constipation. However, this is only one way fiber helps your body stay healthy. Other benefits of fiber include:
- Weight Control: High-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods. This will help us eat less and stay satisfied longer.
- Digestive Problems: A high-fiber diet may help prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. This helps promote healthy bowel function.
- Heart Health: Consuming adequate fiber, especially soluble fiber, may help lower cholesterol levels.
- Diabetes: Fiber has also been shown to help control blood sugar levels for those with diabetes.
Eat More Fiber!
Most Americans are falling short of the fiber recommendations. The recommended daily amount of fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. After the age of 50, it is recommended women consume 21 grams daily and men consume 30 grams daily.
Most people eat fiber every day without realizing it and consuming adequate fiber may be easier than you think. Look at the Nutrition Facts Label for the fiber content of foods. It will be listed under “total carbohydrates”. A high-fiber food is one that has 5 grams of fiber or more per serving. A food is considered a good source of fiber if it has 2.5-4.9 grams per serving. Here are a few tips to help you meet the recommended amount:
Have a bowl of oatmeal or high-fiber cereal at breakfast and top it with your favorite fruit such as an apple, banana, or berries.
Eat the skin or peel of fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears, and potatoes. The peel naturally contains more fiber.
At lunch, have a sandwich or wrap using whole-grain bread or a whole-grain tortilla.
Try wild or brown rice instead of white rice and add beans to your rice dish for even more fiber.
Use whole-grain pasta instead of white.
Add vegetables to casseroles or your favorite soup.
Try whole-grain flour pancakes or waffles and top with your favorite fruit.
Make breads, muffins, or cookies with canned pumpkin or applesauce.
For a snack, add a fruit or vegetable to whole-grain crackers, nuts, or hummus.
When increasing your fiber consumption, be sure to do it gradually and drink plenty of fluids along the way. High-fiber foods are great for your health but adding too much too quickly without plenty of fluids can cause gas, bloating, or cramping. Fiber works best when it can absorb water and make its way easily through your body.
Looking for a great recipe that is a good source of fiber? Try out this hummus recipe with your favorite vegetables or whole-grain crackers!
- 2 (15 oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 T. fresh garlic, minced
- 4 T. tahini (sesame butter) or peanut butter
- 1/2 c. lemon juice
- 1/4 c. water
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. paprika (optional)
- 1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
- In a blender, put chickpeas, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, water, and salt. Blend until the mixture is very smooth.
- Scoop the hummus onto the center of a plate
- Sprinkle the paprika and parsley over the hummus, if desired
- Serve with pita bread, crackers, or fresh vegetables.
Nutrition Information per Serving: Calories 280, Total Fat 11 g (17% DV), Saturated Fat 1.5 g (7% DV), Cholesterol 0 mg (0% DV), Sodium 600 mg (25% DV), Total Carbohydrate 36 g (12% DV), Dietary Fiber 9 g (37% DV), Sugars 6 g, Protein 12 g, Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 15%, Calcium 8%, Iron 20%
This post was reviewed by Meredith Hein, Extension Assistant and Candace Sorden, Dietetic Intern. Photos by Craig Chandler, University Communications.