Q: What exactly is fiber?
A: Fiber is the part of plant foods that your body can’t absorb or digest. Plant foods include grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. If the food doesn’t come from a plant, it can’t have fiber in it. Meat, dairy products and fats contain no natural fibers.
Fiber is either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fibers dissolve in water. In your intestine, soluble fiber can bind with bile, which is made of cholesterol, and help carry it out of your body. Soluble fiber can also slow down the rate your stomach empties, giving it more time to extract nutrients from food and making you feel “full” longer. Fruits, such as apples and citrus, peas, beans, carrots, flaxseed, psyllium, oats and barley are good sources of soluble fiber.
Insoluble fibers don’t dissolve in water. These are the fibers fight against constipation. They also promote the movement of food through your digestive system and increases stool bulk. Insoluble fiber also helps push bound bile out of your system. Vegetables, whole grains and nuts are good sources of insoluble fiber.
As shared in the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter in February of 2009, in addition to helping with digestion, getting plenty of fiber can:
• help prevent hemorrhoids
• lower your risk of digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome
• reduce your risk of diverticular disease
• improve blood cholesterol levels
• combat high blood pressure
• control blood-sugar levels and reduce diabetes risk
• help attain and maintain a healthy weight
• possibly reduce the risk of cancer
If you haven’t been including much fiber in your diet and are now convinced that you should, start slow. Significantly increasing your fiber intake immediately can cause embarrassing and uncomfortable consequences. By increasing your dietary fiber gradually, your body can begin to adjust. Since fiber absorbs water, try to increase your fluid consumption as you increase your dietary fiber.
Q: How much fiber should I get in a day?
A: According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, men age 50 and younger should aim for 38 grams of dietary fiber daily, dropping to 30 grams after age 50. Women age 50 and younger should aim for 25 grams, dropping to 21 grams for those women over the age of 50.
Foods that provide more than 20 percent of daily fiber needs for woman over 50 (21 grams) per serving include:
• Navy beans, cooked 1/2 cup: 9.5
• Bran ready-to-eat cereal (100%), 1/2 cup: 8.8
• Kidney beans, canned, 1/2 cup: 8.2
• Split peas, cooked, 1/2 cup: 8.1
• Lentils, cooked, 1/2 cup: 7.8
• Pinto beans, cooked, 1/2 cup: 7.7
• Black beans, cooked, 1/2 cup: 7.5
• Lima beans, cooked, 1/2 cup: 6.6
• Artichoke, globe, 1 cooked: 6.5
• White beans, canned, 1/2 cup: 6.3
• Chickpeas, cooked, 1/2 cup: 6.2
• Great northern beans, cooked, 1/2 cup: 6.2
• Soybeans, mature, cooked, 1/2 cup: 5.2
• Crackers, rye wafers, plain, 2 wafers: 5.0
• Sweet Potato, baked with peel, 1 medium: 4.8
• Asian pear, raw, 1 small: 4.4
• Green peas, cooked, 1/2 cup: 4.4
• Whole-wheat English muffin, one: 4.4
• Pear, raw, 1 small: 4.3.
Simply eating a variety of different plant-based foods will insure that you’re getting enough of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Switching to whole grains is one way to boost your fiber intake. Tufts University recommends starting the day with a whole-grain cereal that delivers at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. At lunchtime, change your sandwich bread to 100 percent whole wheat, at least 2 grams of fiber per serving. Add some veggies to your sandwich and have fruit for dessert. (Whenever possible, eat the peel, too.) At dinnertime, choose brown rice instead of white, whole-wheat pasta or barley. Cover a greater portion of your plate with vegetables. Substitute beans for some or all of the meat in some meals, and make lentils a regular part of your menu. When it comes to snacks, go high on fiber by crunching on carrots or pop some low-fat popcorn.
Here’s a one-dish skillet meal that is loaded with 12 grams of dietary fiber per serving:
Chicken Bean Skillet
3 cups cooked brown rice
8 ounces skinless chicken breast, cubed
1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 cups fat-free chicken broth (low sodium)
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 cups frozen mixed vegetables (1 pound)
1 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans (or 1 15-oz. can), drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
Pinch cayenne pepper
Cook brown rice according to package directions. For 3 cups cooked, you need 1 cup of rice and 2 cups water.
Meanwhile, heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and saute until browned, about 5 minutes. Add green onion and garlic and cook another minute. Combine chicken broth and flour; add to sauce pan. Add frozen vegetables, beans and herbs and heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until chicken vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes. Serve chicken and beans over brown rice. Makes 4 servings (2 cups per serving).
Nutrition facts: 427 calories, 4.7 grams fat, 191 milligrams sodium, 67 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams dietary fiber, 1.1 grams sugar, 29.5 grams protein.
— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.