You probably remember your grandma telling you to eat more roughage. She most likely did not know why she was telling you that, but it was advice passed down for generations. We now know much more about roughage, commonly referred to as fiber. So, what is fiber and why should you care if you get enough of it?
Fiber is considered a type of carbohydrate, but it doesn’t contribute energy, or calories. This is because our bodies cannot digest it. It passes right through, it is not broken down like “typical” carbohydrates to be used for energy. Our bodies still use fiber, but for different purposes.
There are two types of fiber and they are classified on their solubility in water, soluble and insoluble.
-Soluble fiber dissolves in water. This type of fiber can help bind to cholesterol and remove it from the body. It is also responsible for helping control blood sugar levels and helping maintain a healthy gut.
-Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps move food through the digestive tract. You may have heard that eating fiber can help relieve constipation – insoluble fiber is the hero of this health claim.
It’s not so important to distinguish between the two when eating foods, because many foods have both soluble and insoluble fiber. Take the apple for example. The outside skin of an apple is insoluble fiber and the inside contains soluble and insoluble fiber in the form of cellulose and pectin. What is important is the amount of total fiber you get in a day.
Most people only consume around 15 grams of fiber each day. The recommendation for fiber is 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men. Consistently consuming low levels of fiber could seriously impact your health.
Foods with high fiber contents are generally under consumed in the U.S.
-Fruits and vegetables
-Nuts and seeds
Many studies over the last 4 decades have looked at the role of fiber in many chronic diseases. Fiber may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, diverticular diseases, and possibly some types of cancer. Usually anyone with a higher intake of fiber is also consuming more beneficial nutrients that also help lower the risk of disease.
Fiber is one of those nutrients we never think about until we need it. We all need it – everyday.
Here are some ways to begin getting more fiber in your diet.
-Start slow. Don’t dramatically increase your fiber intake, that could cause some intestinal discomfort
-Add 1-2 more servings of fruits and vegetables to your diet each day
-Replace one refined grain with one whole grain (100% whole wheat breads, air popped popcorn, quinoa) each day
– Eat beans or legumes 1-2 times a week, more if you can
– Replace one unhealthy snack with nuts a few times a week
Start paying attention to the fiber in your diet for good health. Aim for 25-38 grams of fiber every day.