When I was in college, I learned that fiber, also called roughage, was important, so I added a few tablespoons of raw wheat bran to a cup of orange juice every morning. Later, as I studied more about nutrition, I learned more about fiber in the diet and why it matters. Here are the highlights.
Fiber from food comes from plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and legumes. There is no fiber in meat. Dietary fiber is the element in the food that your body can neither absorb nor digest.
There are two main kinds of fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and turns into a gel. Soluble fiber is most commonly found in apples, carrots, citrus fruit, legumes such as beans and peas and grains such as oats and barley.
Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. As a result, its main function is to help move waste through your digestive system. It also makes your poo bulkier and easier to pass, so it’s an important thing to have if you suffer from constipation or irregularity. Good sources of insoluble fiber include vegetables, especially cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, nuts, beans and whole wheat flour.
Besides making your stool softer, bulkier and easier to pass, sufficient fiber in the diet also contributes to lowering cholesterol and controlling blood sugar. High fiber foods tend to be denser than low fiber foods. This makes them more filling, which will help you eat less and stay full longer.
Women under 50 should aim for 25 grams of fiber a day. Women over 50 can get by with 21. For men under 50, shoot for 38 grams of fiber a day. After age 50, men need only 31 grams a day.
Most people get woefully little fiber, largely because they eat a lot of processed foods or too much meat, chicken, fish, milk, cheese, and butter which have little to no fiber. The more natural a plant-based food source is, chances are, the higher the amount of fiber it will contain.
To boost your fiber intake dramatically, you can do what I used to do and add some raw wheat bran to your orange juice. Not too much though, or it gets too sludgy and gross to drink. Or you can up your intake of fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seeds and foods baked with whole-grains.
Rebeca Espinoza writes about health, fitness and weight loss for Spatz Medical, makers of the Spatz3 Adjustable Gastric Balloon. You can find her on Google+ or at firstname.lastname@example.org.