In this post, we explain the two types of fiber found in food and give guidelines for how much is enough for good health and weight loss. The benefits of eating fiber are described and list several easy ways to get a good amount of fiber into the diet without a lot of effort.
The terms ‘roughage’ and ‘bulk’ in reference to diet refers to fiber – that part of edible plants which the body cannot absorb and digest. Fiber is only found in plant-based foods or drinks that include vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, seeds and nuts. There are two types of fiber and most fiber-rich foods have both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber forms a gelatinous substance and partially dissolves in water. There is evidence that soluble fiber helps to decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering both LDL or bad cholesterol as well as total cholesterol. It can help to prevent type 2 diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels and can help control blood sugar in diabetics. Soluble fiber can be found in oats, oat bran, legumes, psyllium husks, barley as well as many vegetables and fruits.
Unlike soluble fiber, this type of fiber does NOT dissolve in water. It does however add bulk to stool. It promotes moving waste material through the digestive system and thereby helps prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber can help with other digestion-related problems including hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains and products made from whole grains, bran, nuts, seeds and vegetables and fruit – especially those with skins that can be eaten (potatoes, cucumbers, many stone fruits).
A good guideline according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories. So a 1,500 daily caloric diet should include 12 (14 + 7) grams of fiber.
In addition to the benefits mentioned relating to sugar regulation and cholesterol management, fiber can be a secret weapon when it comes to weight loss. Eating fiber-rich foods adds that bulk or roughage to the diet and helps to not only help fill you up sooner, but to stay satisfied longer than would otherwise be the case. In her book The Fiber35 Diet Plan, Brenda Watson, C.N.C recommends working up to 35 grams of fiber a day. In fact, she goes on to write, “A diet with 50 to 60 grams of fiber should not be seen as unhealthy; it is generally beneficial and well tolerated by most people.” Of course, everyone is different and individual tolerances should be respected. As with anything, listen to your body and heed what it tells you.
If you’re not yet eating a minimum of FIVE servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, DO IT! This is the easiest way to add fiber to your diet. It is recommended that whole, organic produce be chosen over canned or frozen fruits and veggies, but if that’s what is available, do include those. Vegetables are preferred over fruit because of the high sugar content. But again, if it’s a choice between a banana and a scoop of ice cream, the banana wins EVERY TIME! In addition to five fruit and veggie servings daily, consume three or more servings of whole grains along with several servings of nuts and seeds on a weekly basis. Since some nuts and seeds are more calorie-dense and often have a high fat content, eating these in unlimited amounts is not recommended.