Fiber for health

Fiber helps us stay healthy and can protect us from disease. There are two types of fiber and many ways to get more into the diet.

Making sure we have enough fiber in our diet is important. Fiber comes from plants, and helps digest food, keeps our bodies regular, and may protect us from some types of cancer and heart disease. It helps to control blood sugar and may help lower cholesterol levels. Fiber also helps to maintain a healthy diet as consuming fiber-rich foods helps us limit fat, get the nutrients we need, and feel full.

Women age fifty and under need about 25 grams of fiber a day. Those over age fifty should eat about 21 grams each day. The recommended amount for men is 38 grams for those fifty and under and 30 grams for those over age 50. Children need fiber in their diets, as well. The goal for girls ages 9 to 18 is to consume 26 grams each day. Boys, ages 9 to 18, should eat between 31 to 38 grams.

We can tell how much fiber is in a food by reading the label. Foods high in fiber have two grams of fiber or more in each serving. Some manufacturers draw attention to their food by designating it as an ‘excellent’ or ‘high’ source of fiber.

There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both kinds are important and you can get both into your diet by eating a variety of foods each day. Soluble fiber is found in dry beans, peas, lentils, oats, fruits, and some vegetables like carrots and squash. Eating foods with soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and decrease our risk of heart disease. Foods with soluble fiber can help lower blood sugar levels, too. This is important in managing diabetes. Insoluble fiber is found in foods like wheat bran, whole grains, and all vegetables and fruits. Insoluble fiber is often called roughage or bulk because it keeps our bowels running smoothly. Eating enough foods with insoluble fiber can help prevent and relieve flare-ups of constipation and hemorrhoids, and may help prevent some types of cancer such as colon cancer.

Here are some ways to boost fiber:

  • Dry beans are one of the best sources of fiber. Cook a package and freeze the cooked beans in usable quantities. Add canned beans, like lima, kidney, red, black, white, garbanzo or other beans to foods you already eat.
  • Choose romaine lettuce or spinach, instead of iceberg lettuce.
  • Berries are very good sources of fiber.
  • Enjoy 100% whole-wheat or whole-grain bread. A dark color isn’t enough; compare the fiber numbers on the label.
  • Choose high-fiber cereal with at least five grams per serving or mix high-fiber with your regular brand.
  • Choose brown rice instead of white. Instant or quick cooking brown rice is an option if time is short.
  • Buy crackers with at least two grams of fiber per ounce.
  • Pair hummus, a chickpea spread, with vegetables or whole-grain crackers as a snack. Chickpeas are also called garbanzo beans and you can make your own hummus by mashing one 15.5 ounce can of drained and rinsed chickpeas and mixing with a quarter teaspoon salt, one tablespoon vegetable or olive oil, half teaspoon grated onion, and one tablespoon lemon juice. One tablespoon tahini, a sesame seed paste, can be added, if you wish. Combine until smooth and refrigerate.
  • Eat the skins of potatoes and other vegetables and fruits.
  • Use whole wheat flour, or a 50/50 mixture of whole wheat and white flour, when baking breads, pancakes and muffins.
  • Don’t forget to eat corn. This includes popcorn!
  • Add wheat bran, wheat germ, or oat bran to baked goods, cereal, and on top of yogurt.
  • Snack on dried fruits such as apricots, which are concentrated sources of nutrients and fiber.
  • Instead of drinking orange, grapefruit or carrot juice, eat the fruit or vegetable itself.

Start increasing your fiber intake slowly by adding one or two additional servings of fiber each day. The healthy habit of consuming fiber benefits the body while adding great taste and variety to the way we eat! For more information on nutrition or other issues of interest to older adults or those living with chronic conditions, contact a Michigan State University Extension educator in your area.

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