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Monday
Jun302014

The Real Scoop on Fiber

Fiber is a common buzzword within the food industry these days, but it’s difficult to know what is healthy truth versus marketing tactic. What is fiber exactly? What foods contain the most? How much do I need? How should it influence my dietary choices - and grocery list? With the addition of fiber to your daily routine, the common rollercoaster of energy as well as hunger peaks and valleys can be a thing of the past. It can enhance your digestive regularity and overall health, but it’s important to know the best ways to incorporate fiber in your Healthy Way of Eating to get the most benefit. Read on for a fiber primer and all the facts you need to make healthy fiber choices.

Fiber: What’s in it for me?

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of fiber and what it is, let’s talk about why you should start adding more of this to your day! Do you deal with any of these on a regular basis: tummy troubles (e.g. bloating, gassiness, IBS, etc.), difficulty managing your weight, irregular bowel movements, never feeling full/satisfied, energy highs and lows, constipation, or maybe even high cholesterol, heart disease, or diabetes?  Many of these issues are increasing in popularity among Americans, and it’s no surprise that our diet and nutrition play a primary role. Ensuring sufficient fiber intake may help resolve these issues and kick-start your way to looking and feeling better!

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. Typically when we consume carbohydrate, our body quickly converts it to glucose (sugar), which is easily broken down and utilized for energy. Fiber, however, cannot be broken down and instead passes through the body undigested, which is what keeps us feeling fuller longer, keeps blood sugar spikes to a minimum, and maintains consistent energy levels. It comes in two forms and therefore has a variety of benefits to our overall health. Foods such as beans, lentils, oatmeal, and berries contain a type of fiber called “soluble fiber,” which dissolves in water and helps to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Fiber that does not dissolve in water is called “insoluble fiber,” which adds bulk to stools, helps digestive regularity and prevents constipation. Good food sources of insoluble fiber include cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower), carrots, green beans, root vegetable skins, dark leafy veggies, some fruits (e.g. raspberries, kiwi, grapes) as well as nuts, seeds, and whole grains. In addition to aiding the regulation of cholesterol, blood sugar, and digestive function, (soluble) fiber actually serves as fuel for the good bacteria in our gut, which improves our gut function and immune system!

Buyer Beware

Once the benefits of fiber started to garner more medical (and media) attention, many packaged and processed food companies jumped on the bandwagon and started to add fiber to their products. Although this may seem like a healthy feature, be a smart shopper. Many food products at first glance seem healthy and make claims regarding their fiber content and “beneficial” impact to your health. Much like “low calorie” snacks and “low-fat” products, claims such as “high in fiber” or “good source of fiber” could actually be very misleading. The food industry has coy tactics to get us to buy into their marketing schemes. As consumers, we shouldn’t believe everything we read. Food products can claim the phrase “good source of fiber” if the food product has just three grams of added fiber! Therefore, before you go out and stock up on fiber bars, high-fiber cereals, and other prepackaged goods that market their “high” levels of fiber, take a gander at what other ingredients (especially added sugars and artificial additives) are also listed. Your best options for increasing fiber intake without all the other unnecessary ingredients are always your whole-food choices: fresh vegetables, nuts, legumes, and some whole grains and fruit. Remember, the most healthy foods don’t have to have fancy marketing telling us they’re healthy.

Start SLOWLY

If you remember nothing else, be sure to slowly up your fiber intake and also increase your water intake! Consider how much (or little) fiber you are currently getting throughout your day, and gradually add in 1-2 servings. You may notice a bit more gassiness than usual, but as your body adjusts to the incremental and healthy increase, the gassiness will subside. Most Americans struggle to get 15 grams of fiber throughout their day, which for some is nearly half of the recommended amount (28 grams for females and 35 for males). Helpful ways to increase your fiber intake include the following dietary changes.

  • ½ cup vegetables (1-3 grams)
  • 1 oz nuts or seeds (1-4 grams)
  • 1 serving fruit (1-5 grams)

Try making your own colorful smoothie with ample amounts of fiber or our tasty chia pudding! Another option to help increase your fiber intake - especially for those who struggle with their vegetable intake - is supplementing with a quality, well-tolerated fiber powder, such as FiberMend. This product is tasteless and dissolves readily in water, which means you can easily add it to a smoothie or preferred beverage.

What are some ways you’ve been able to up your fiber intake?

Written by Becca Hurt, MS, RD, Program Manager of Life Time WeightLoss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

 

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