Dayle Hayes 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Make friends with this oft-forgotten nutrient. As a registered dietitian, I firmly believe that dietary fiber deserves a lot more nutrition respect than it usually gets. After all, it was one of four "nutrients of concern" named in the 2010 update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The other three- calcium, vitamin D and potassium-get a lot more attention. Advocates for nutrition are always talking about the calcium crisis and touting the dramatic benefits of getting enough vitamin D-and both can be gained through increased consumption of dairy products. And most Americans, even kids, can name bananas as an excellent source of potassium. But is there enough talk about the sources and benefits of dietary fiber? We may choose a high-fiber cereal (especially as we get older and our bowel habits become more interesting to us). However, beyond the breakfast table, few Americans tend to contemplate the multiple advantages that fiber offers-or the delicious ways kids and adults easily can up their fiber intake to recommended levels. Indeed, our fiber deficit is much greater than that of any other nutrient, vitamin or mineral. Depending on the survey and the age group, 90 to 98% of Americans fail to consume the recommended amount of dietary fiber. To put it bluntly, almost none of us are getting enough fiber for optimal health. If that's not a nutrition crisis, I don't know what is! The facts about fiber are mostly simple and straightforward. And, the really good news is that filling up your plate and bowl with fiber is easier and better tasting than you might think. So, let's jump right in and answer the three key fiber questions: what, why and how. WHAT Is Dietary Fiber? Dietary fiber is part of all plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Fiber is indigestible in our intestinal tract, meaning that our body cannot break it down and absorb it. In fact, all the fiber we eat is eliminated in our feces, but not until it has done some very important work in our intestines. There are three basic types of dietary fiber in our food. Each can play a different role in promoting good health and offering good taste. And each fiber is included in the grams of "Dietary Fiber" category included on the Nutrition Facts panel of packaged products. Soluble fiber is found in the bran (the outer layer) of certain grains (especially oats and barley), apples, pears and legumes. Soluble fiber acts like a sponge in the intestine, absorbing water and, in some cases, actually forming a gel in the body. This type of fiber helps to promote satiety (fullness) and helps to keep blood cholesterol and blood glucose (sugar) at healthy levels. Insoluble fiber acts more like a broom in the gut. This type of fiber sweeps food through the digestive tract, helping to promote intestinal regularity along the way. It also "bulks up" by absorbing water, which again helps to promote fullness. You can get this type of fiber from wheat bran, corn bran and wholewheat foods, as well as from veggies, fruits, seeds and nuts. All plant foods naturally contain both soluble and insoluble fibers in varying amounts. There also are added fibers, sometimes called functional fibers, which are extracted from naturally fiber-rich food plants, and then added as ingredients to other foods during processing. Inulin, chicory root, psyillum, beta-glucan and soluble corn fiber are a few names for added fibers that you might see on product ingredient lists. Snack bars, breads, yogurts and even juices are examples of foods that may contain added fibers. Many of the "new and improved" formulations of popular cereals also contain added fibers. WHY Do We Need Fiber? Dietary fiber is a hard-working, multi-tasking nutrient. It does several important jobs as it moves undigested through the intestinal tract. Unfortunately, since most of us consume only half the fiber we need, we're not getting all of the following impressive benefits. Intestinal regularity: Fiber helps keep your intestines working smoothly and regularly by increasing bulk and decreasing the amount of time food spends in the digestive tract (called "transit time"). This makes it easier for food and other bodily wastes to be eliminated, decreasing problems with constipation. Fiber helps improve chronic constipation in both adults and children, many of whom have very low-fiber intakes. Optimal intestinal health: Fiber is necessary to support healthy levels of the "good" bacteria in our intestines, which are essential for good health. It helps keep away disease-causing "bugs," produces certain vitamins and reduces the risk of colon and rectal cancers. Healthier hearts: People who eat plenty of fiber also tend to have lower cholesterol levels and consequently healthier hearts. Soluble fibers, such as those found in oats, legumes and barley, are effective in helping to lower LDL (so-called "bad") cholesterol. Once in the intestinal track, these soluble fibers act like a sponge, soaking up dietary cholesterol and helping to remove it from the body. Better blood sugar control: Several studies have shown that eating plenty of fiber can help reduce the risk of diabetes and Also help with blood sugar control after a diagnosis of diabetes. High-fiber foods take a bit more time to digest in the intestine, meaning that food energy (sugar) is released more gradually into the blood stream. Remember, while the fiber itself is not digested, the carbohydrates in the food are broken down and absorbed as glucose. Healthy weights: A high-fiber intake also is associated with lower body weight in adults. Fiber helps keep you feeling fuller for longer periods of time, which may help to prevent excessive weight gain and aid in weight maintenance. This is because fiber itself does not have any calories, since it is not absorbed by the body. With all these health benefits, it's easy to see why dietitians and physicians, especially gastroenterologists and diabetes specialists, are such fans of fiber! Does it intrigue your interest? If so, good! Let's talk about how to take some action. HOW Can We Get the Fiber We Need? First, how much fiber do we need? Second, how much are we currently eating? And, finally, how can we "fiber up" to get more of this forgotten nutrient into every meal and snack? For adults, the recommended intake is 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories. This means that women generally need less fiber (20-25 grams per day) than men (25-30 grams per day). The Nutrition Facts panel uses an average recommendation of 25 grams per day. For children, the generally accepted number is based on the "age-plus-5" rule. This means that a 3-year-old would need 8 grams of fiber per day; a 12-year-old would need 17 grams per day. Fun Fiber Fact: Think that 25 grams of fiber sounds like a lot? Think again! Our earliest ancestors probably ate up to 100 grams of fiber per day, finding it in fruits, berries and nuts. (Yes, there are anthropologists who actually weigh and measure fossilized human feces from early hunters/gatherers in order to calculate these numbers!) Our current fiber intakes are very far from our ancient ancestors and don't even come close to current recommendations. Surveys suggest that American adults eat less than half the recommended amount of fiber; 12 grams or less per day. Some children are getting little to almost no fiber. This is one of the key reasons why the Healthier US School Challenge criteria and the proposed nutrition standards for school meals focus so intently on increasing fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. And this is exactly the smartest, tastiest way to boost your own personal fiber intake, as well. By enjoying a wide variety of fiber-rich foods every day, you'll get a balance of soluble and insoluble fibers (and a powerful dose of other key nutrients, as well). In general, adults can get the recommended levels of fiber by eating the following foods (minimum servings for smaller women, maximum for larger men). Every Day: 3 to 6 servings of whole grains (high-fiber cereal when possible) 2+ servings of whole fruits (fresh and with peel when possible) 3+ servings of vegetables (fresh and with peel when possible) Every Week: 3 to 5 servings of legumes (in soups, on salads, as side dishes, etc.) 3 to 5 servings of nuts and seeds (on salads, as snacks, in yogurt, etc.) TOP TIPS for Change If you're ready to make 2012 the year you try new behaviors for improving your health, I hope that increasing your fiber intake will be one of your priorities. But be mindful that you can't make a radical diet change all at once and expect to find success. Consider the following steps for a balanced, moderate approach. Go slow: If your fiber intake has been low for a while (or forever), it may take your gut bacteria a while to adjust. Add new fiber sources slowly, especially high-fiber cereals and legumes; this will help minimize gas and bloating. Drink plenty of fluids (6+ glasses per day): High-fiber intakes increase your water needs. For optimal regularity, your intestines need water to bulk up the fiber. Water, low fat/fat-free milk and herbal teas are great choices. Sprinkle and top it. Several fiber-rich foods are great toppings. Which means a sprinkle or two can be an easy way to "sneak" some fiber into your diet every day. Nuts, seeds, toasted legumes (soynuts, peas and edamame) and All-BranR Cereal all make tasty toppings for yogurt, oatmeal, cold cereal, salad, soup and casseroles. The tables on pages 20 and 21 feature lists of foods that are great sources of fiber. Make a New Year's resolution to try one or two new ones every month! Fiber can be a great friend to your health; find out for yourself and welcome it into your world. Dayle Hayes is a nutrition consultant and speaker based in Billings, Mont. You can reach her at EatWellatSchool@gmail.com. Photography by skynesher, Fotografi aBasica, Peli_asenova, mac_bnphotos, ALEAIMAGE, RosetteJordaan, jBryson, ArtisticCaptures/istockphoto.com. High-Fiber Foods The following list of high-fiber foods, adapted from the Mayo Clinic website, is just a sampling of common foods that contain fiber. A quick glance down the list will give you some great ideas for increasing your own fiber intake. For packaged foods, check the Nutrition Facts panel, which uses 25 grams of dietary fiber as the recommended amount in a 2,000 kcal diet. Manufacturers are allowed to call a food a "good source of fiber" if it contains 10% of the recommended amount (2.5 grams per serving) and an "excellent source of fiber" if it contains 20% (5 grams per serving). Dietary fiber on food labels includes soluble, insoluble and added fiber. Fiber and Whole Grains: What's the Difference? That's a good question-and one that confuses a lot of folks! High fiber and whole grains are not the same thing. Different types of whole grains (wheat, oats, corn, rice, barley, etc.) have varying amounts and types of fiber. Both fiber and whole grains are important for good health, but in different ways. For example, while some whole-grain foods may not be particularly high in fiber, they do provide a package of other health-promoting benefits, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients. Some grain foods with a "high-fiber" label may not necessarily be 100% whole grain. For example, certain bran cereals may have the added fibers from grains or other plant foods in order to raise their fiber levels. On food packaging, "Dietary Fiber" will be listed in grams on the Nutrition Facts panel. Whole grains also may be listed on the package in grams, but often on a separate label or "stamp." Just remember that these grams are not equivalent and that you need both fiber and whole grains for good health.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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