Simply adding fiber to your diet can conquer several of the most common, and serious, diseases.
Do you love carbohydrates, but thought they weren’t good for you? Think again. Fiber is a type of carb that your body can’t digest, and a review of recent studies show it plays an important role in fighting disease. The latest national dietary guidelines point to the easiest way to improve your diet for a healthier outcome: Eat more fiber.
Lower Your Risk
Fiber lowers the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and colon cancer by 15 to 30 percent. Incredibly, people who ate more fiber also lowered their risk of dying early from any cause by the same margin. The more fiber people consumed, the greater the protective benefits. In fact, every 8 grams of additional fiber eaten per day correlated with a drop in the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer.
The results were gleaned from a review of 243 studies that followed participants for numerous years and recorded what they ate and their health outcomes, as well as clinical trials in which volunteers either changed their diets or were part of a control group. The researchers also examined data such as blood pressure, body weight, cholesterol, blood sugar, and inflammation.
How Much Fiber is Enough
The average American eats about 15 grams of fiber daily. However, new guidelines recommend that women consume at least 25 grams daily, and men have 38 grams a day.
“Our research indicates that people should have at least 25-29 grams of fiber from foods per day,” says Andrew Reynolds, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand. “Currently, most people consume less than 20 grams of fiber per day, so being more conscious about choosing high-fiber food options will help reach that target.”
Various studies point to the reason fiber is such a strong ally for good health. It stimulates beneficial bacteria in the gut to reduce colon cancer risk. Foods rich in fiber tend to take a long time to chew and be heavier than others, increasing satiety and likely lowering obesity rates that are linked to heart disease and cancer.
You may wonder exactly what you need to eat to meet the fiber guidelines. The Mayo Clinic offers a handy chart of high-fiber foods to get started. For instance, a cup of red raspberries is good for 8 grams of fiber, or you can eat an apple with the skin for 4.5 grams. Green peas merit 9 grams of fiber per cup, a raw carrot adds 1.5 grams, and a cup of black beans is good for a whopping 15 grams.
Fibrous Foods You’ll Want to Eat
When you get right down to it, adding plant fiber to your diet often means adding vegetables. Many Americans don’t eat many unprocessed veggies because they’re not as appealing as other, less-nutritious foods. To help improve your habits, we’ve listed 10 fiber-rich foods that you’ll look forward to putting on your plate.
While it may be tempting to replace fiber-rich foods with supplements, the data did not show the same benefits when supplements or powders were used to introduce more fiber into meals.
"The real issue here is that eating a high-fiber diet from foods is almost, by definition, an excellent diet,” says Joanne Lupton, a spokesperson for the American Society of Nutrition and professor of nutrition at Texas A&M University. "It's hard to reach dietary fiber recommendations without eating a lot of fiber . . . so once you take it out of the food, you probably won't have a very good diet.”
Tasteless and odorless, supplements can be added to an endless array of soft foods and batters, changing only the texture. But at a mere three grams of fiber per tablespoon, you’d have to use an awful lot (9 tablespoons for women, 13 for men) to meet current guidelines. That’s a lot of chewy yogurt and grainy pancakes.
"You would be sprinkling it on everything all day long," says Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas. "Just adding fiber to a food doesn't necessarily make it a health food. I'm sure there are people out there who try to justify it.”
Health professionals warn that people taking tricyclic antidepressants, diabetes drugs, cholesterol-lowering drugs, lithium, digoxin or the seizure drug carbamazepine shouldn’t use fiber supplements without first talking to their doctor. A high daily intake can interfere with the absorption of nutrients and the active ingredients in these drugs. While that can also occur with natural sources, it’s a lot easier to overdo it with packaged fiber.
However, supplements do provide some benefits. While products like Metamucil, Benefiber, Fiber Choice and Citrucel are lacking the vitamins and minerals contained in whole foods, powdered fiber can lower cholesterol and maintain more stable levels of blood sugar.
In addition, powdered fiber is good at moving bowels. Really good.
"Some of them cause more GI [gastrointestinal] rumblings than maybe people would care to have," Sandon says.
Two Kinds of Fiber
Both varieties of fiber are good for your health. Soluble fiber, the kind that dissolves in water, lowers glucose levels and blood cholesterol. Find it in oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples and blueberries. Insoluble fiber, which doesn’t dissolve in water, is good for moving food through your system. Good sources are whole wheat, couscous, brown rice, legumes, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes.
How can the average person get more fiber? Following are some quick tips from the Harvard School of Public Health:
- Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
- Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with brown rice and whole grain products.
- For breakfast, choose cereals that have a whole grain as their first ingredient.
- Snack on raw vegetables instead of chips, crackers, or chocolate bars.
- Substitute beans or legumes for meat two to three times per week in chili and soups.
As an added benefit, fiber regulates the body’s use of sugars so it naturally helps put a damper on hunger sensations.
Click below for the other articles in the April 2019 Senior Spirit
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors