Those of us who consume the Standard American diet devoid of nutrients and fiber may simply be asking for health problems. Genetics aside, largely preventable lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, result from poor lifestyle choices and a steady diet of processed foods, which lack nutrients but have plenty of sodium, chemicals and added sugars. Many of us may try to include a healthy daily intake of fiber and nutrient filled whole foods, but what actually constitutes a high fiber diet? How much fiber do we need to keep our digestive system working properly, to lower our blood glucose and lipid levels, to achieve a healthy weight or prevent chronic disease? The answer is very likely more than you are getting. Macronutrients necessary for good health include proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Although dietary fiber is technically not a “nutrient,” it is nonetheless a very important dietary component that plays a huge role in disease prevention.
Both the Institute of Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend adult women get a minimum of 25 grams of fiber daily and adult men 38 grams, with slightly lower recommendations for adults over 50 years old. The current average intake is approximately 15 grams daily, only about half the recommended amount. The best way to increase your fiber intake and improve your general health is to eat fiber and nutrient rich whole plant foods, as opposed to processed foods labeled “added fiber.” In fact, we need only to look at our Paleolithic dietary past to see that our hunter gatherer human ancestors were largely vegetarians who consumed upwards of 100 grams of fiber daily. There is plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that a plant-rich diet promotes health and, in some cases can actually reverse cardiovascular disease without drugs or surgery. Our finely tuned evolutionary heritage is not based on excessive amounts of animal foods or refined, processed junk foods but on plant foods, the only dietary source of natural fiber.
Dietary fibers, categorized as soluble and insoluble, are the edible portions of plant cell walls that are resistant to digestion. Soluble fiber attracts water, turning it into a gel-like substance, slowing digestion and allowing additional time for nutrient absorption. Soluble fiber is found in oats, nuts, beans, certain fruits and vegetables and psyllium, a common fiber supplement. Found mostly in whole grains, salad veggies and the outer peel of fruits, insoluble fiber does not absorb or dissolve in water and passes through the digestive system largely intact, pushing out waste and helping to keep the digestive system at optimal function. Many fruits and vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble fibers. Ensuring that you consume enough fiber means eliminating processed foods, including more beans, nuts, legumes and whole grains and getting your minimum allotment of at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Soluble fiber is believed to slow down carbohydrate digestion, thereby slowing glucose absorption and aiding blood sugar control.
- Studies show those who eat a high fiber diet may have a significantly reduced risk of developing heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
- High fiber intake is associated with lowered blood pressure and improved insulin sensitivity in both non-diabetic and diabetic individuals.
- Dietary fiber intake benefits children as well as adults. A child’s healthy diet should include lots of water and fiber to promote healthy bowel function and protect against constipation. Children with high fiber diets tend to consume more nutrient dense foods, are more likely to meet recommended daily requirements for key nutrients and are more likely to have a healthy weight.
- A high fiber diet or fiber supplementation promotes weight loss. Because fiber is filling, adequate fiber intake discourages overeating, while the fiber itself adds no additional calories.
- As fiber ferments in the colon, it provides prebiotics that support healthy intestinal flora and in turn more optimal immune function.
Tried and true supplements for increasing your fiber intake include:TruFiber™ by Master Supplements, Inc. – This non-gritty, tasteless powder contains soluble fiber along with bifidogenic enzymes uniquely formulated to enhance probiotic colonies in the digestive tract. Mix one level scoop daily in a non-carbonated beverage of your choice for improved intestinal comfort and regularity and improved nutrient absorption. Gluten, soy and diary free vegetarian formula. Organic Fiber-Clear by Advanced Naturals - This flavor and grit free natural acacia fiber dissolves quickly in room temperature liquid or in soft foods for a convenient fiber boost. It may be used in cooking or baking without altering the texture or flavor. Contains 100% organic fiber, nothing more, nothing less. Fiber Plus Caps by Ortho Molecular – These easy-to-take capsules provide a proprietary blend of organic psyllium husk powder along with rice bran, apple pectin and fig with the added benefit of the probiotic, lactobacillus acidophilus. Gluten-free. MediBulk (SP621) by Thorne Research – This unflavored soluble fiber formula provides a proprietary blend of psyllium husk powder along with prune powder and apple pectin in support of a healthy GI tract and optimum digestive health. Gluten, soy and dairy free, Non-
References: Health benefits of dietary fiber. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19335713 Increasing Fiber Intake. http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/increasing_fiber_intake/ Dietary Fiber – what’s its role in a healthy diet? http://www.eufic.org/article/en/nutrition/fibre/artid/dietary-fibre-role-healthy-diet/ Sources of Insoluble Fiber. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/sources-insoluble-fiber-1413.html Fiber and Your Child. http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/feeding/fiber.html Nutrition Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x/full