ONLY 5 PERCENT OF Americans are achieving the adequate intake of recommended fiber. On average, adolescents and adults are only consuming about 50 percent of their needs. This is a problem, because fiber is important for numerous body processes, such as:
Managing digestion. A low-fiber diet can lead to constipation, which is a chronic condition seen in many children. Eating enough fiber on a regular basis can lead to bowel regularity for kids and adults alike.
Improved regulation of blood glucose levels. A meal high in fiber will slow down digestion of food into the intestines, which slows blood sugar rise.
Heart health. A high-fiber diet is associated with improved blood lipid levels. Soluble fiber helps lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease.
Aiding in nutrient intake and satiety. Many foods with fiber also have a variety of other necessary vitamins and minerals. Also, fiber keeps you full, which can aid in weight control.
[See: What to Eat, Drink and Do to Relieve Constipation.]
What Is Fiber?
Fiber is a natural product of plant foods. It’s the structural part of the plant that your body cannot digest. For this reason, it aids in blood sugar control and satiety. There are two types of fiber: Soluble fiber dissolves in water and slows down digestion. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water; rather, it pulls water into the colon to produce softer stools. It’s important to get a balance of both sources of fiber to see all the benefits.
You can find fiber in a variety of nuts, legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
High-fiber grains: 100 percent whole-wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, bran cereals, rolled oats/oatmeal, popcorn, beans (all kinds) and lentils
High-fiber fruits: raspberries, pears, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, apples, peaches, prunes
High-fiber vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, potatoes and sweet potatoes, string beans, peas
So, what about animal products? If you check out the food label for some animal products, you may notice they contain fiber. Remember that fiber is naturally found in plant foods, so any fiber in an animal product is added and can lead to GI distress in some people.
If you struggle to get enough plant fiber from foods, talk to your doctor or registered dietitian about supplement options. Not all supplements are the same. Some contain soluble fiber, some container insoluble fiber and some contain both. Remember the different types of fiber have different mechanisms of action in your system, so you’ll want to pick the best for you.