Foodie Friday: Fiber Is Your Friend In More Ways Than One
From helping dieters shed unwanted pounds to lowering your risk of heart disease and diabetes, fiber packs a powerful punch.
That’s not all. Fiber can help lower cholesterol, which helps lower the risk of heart disease, adds Thomas Weida, MD, a member of the board of directors for the American Academy of Family Physicians.
It also has been deemed the nutrient of choice for most dieters. “High-fiber foods have lower calories, and they’re bulky and watery so they fill you up with fewer calories,” Tallmadge says.
But what exactly is this miracle ingredient, and where do you find it?
“It’s found in fruits, veggies and whole grains,” says Weida, and it comes in soluble and insoluble forms. Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, is found in fruit (for example, oranges, apples, pears, berries), legumes and cereal grains (oatmeal, barley, bran), and also helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Insoluble fiber—found in whole grains, seeds and tomatoes, for example—doesn’t dissolve in water and helps improve intestinal function. “You should have both kinds in your diet to maintain a balance,” Weida says.
Fitting in Fiber
Considering all the health benefits, why then, are we not consuming more fiber? Because the recommended daily amounts are 38 grams for men under 50, and 25 grams for women under 50. That equals a lot of fiber each day.
“To get those numbers, you really have to make an effort,” Tallmadge says. To fit it all in, Weida suggests starting your day off with a high-fiber cereal (about 5 grams per serving) or oatmeal. “Add some prunes and you get even more fiber,” he says.
At lunch add broccoli, beans, figs and dates to your salad, and use whole-grain bread for your sandwich. At dinner, try more leafy greens and mix bran into dishes such as meatloaf.
“It’s just something you have to plan for,” Tallmadge says. “You need to make sure you have some fiber during all of your meals and your snacks.”
Can’t I Just Take a Pill?
It seems there’s a vitamin or pill for everything, so why not fiber?
Tallmadge is emphatic when it comes to fiber supplements. “It’s the food and its natural packaging that’s best,” she says. Tallmadge does point out that supplements such as Metamucil are good mechanical fixes for gastrointestinal problems, but natural fiber is your best bet for overall good health.
Weida says supplements can be helpful for those having difficulty reaching the recommended daily amount, but he advises starting slowly, and drinking enough water. “It helps your body deal with the fiber; otherwise you’ll become constipated,” he says.
Weida agrees that fiber in its natural form is best. “The body was designed to eat food,” he says, “not pills.”
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