By Denise Webb, Ph.D., R.D., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter
When you think of dietary fiber, you may think of foods, like bran, that help move things along in your intestinal tract. And you would be right, at least partially. However, dietary fiber does a lot more than just benefit your intestines. A fiber-rich diet may also confer lower risk of hypertension and diabetes. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough fiber — the average intake is only about 15 grams (g) per day, far below the recommended daily intake of 25 g for women and 38 g for men.
“Two common misconceptions are that it is tough to meet the daily fiber recommendations and that food high in fiber tastes bad,” says Vandana Sheth, R.D.N., C.D.E., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Our five fabulous fiber facts will have you reaching for more delicious, high-fiber foods to help you meet that goal 25 to 38 gram goal.
1. High-fiber foods are rich in disease-preventing compounds. Fiber-rich plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, are also packed with a host of naturally occurring compounds, such as polyphenols and carotenoids, all of which have been linked to better health.
Take Home Tip: Choose vegetarian menu options when you can. Add more vegetables to your casseroles, pizzas, and sandwiches.
2. Fiber may help lower high blood pressure. Studies show that increasing dietary fiber can lower high blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But you’ll need to give it time to work its magic. According to an analysis of several studies, it may take eight weeks to get maximum results.
Take Home Tip: Switch to whole grain cereals, breads, buns, crackers, pasta and rice.
3. Fiber can greatly reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Those were the findings from the largest investigation in the world of new-onset type 2 diabetes. How much does it take to reduce your risk? This study found that you need to get more than 26 g of fiber a day to reduce your risk by 18 percent.
Take Home Tip: Get your day off to a high-fiber start. Choose fiber-rich cereals and add nuts and dried fruit for an additional fiber boost.
4. Fiber supplements don’t provide the same benefits as high-fiber foods. It goes back to No. 1. High-fiber, whole plant foods provide a lot more than just fiber. And it may be that all of these naturally occurring compounds act in concert to provide maximum health benefits. Removing and isolating the fiber from plants to create a fiber additive for foods (i.e., polydextrose, inulin, maltodextrin) takes away the all-important mix of natural compounds in whole foods.
Take Home Tip: Snack on almonds, walnuts, pistachios, seeds and dried figs. They taste so much better than fiber supplements.
5. Mix and match the many types of fiber in foods to provide the most health benefits. Cellulose, found in nuts, whole wheat, seeds and brown rice is a natural laxative. Lignin, found in flax and rye, benefits heart health. Pectin and gums, found in berries and seeds, help lower blood cholesterol. Inulin, found in onions, beets, artichokes, and chicory root may improve the good bacteria in the intestinal tract and enhance your immune system. Resistant starch, found in unripened bananas, oatmeal and legumes (as well as potatoes and rice that have been cooked, then refrigerated), may help control blood sugar.
Take Home Tip: Bran for breakfast is great, but try to introduce a variety of fiber-rich foods — whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes — for the best benefit.
(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)