Dietary fiber is an essential nutrient in a healthy diet, but its function is often misunderstood. Fiber is associated with several health benefits, including weight management, gut health, and reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate found primarily in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Although not digested in the body, fiber actually aids digestion by helping waste products move through the gut and out of your body. There are two main types of fiber, soluble and insoluble:
- Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material. This helps bulk up the stool and can be particularly beneficial for diarrhea. Soluble fiber also binds to cholesterol, which slows digestion. This can help better control cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Examples of soluble fiber include oats, beans, lentils, apples, citrus fruits and berries.
- Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps promote regular movement through your digestive system, preventing constipation. Some examples of insoluble fiber include whole grain products, nuts, seeds, raw vegetables, and fruits with skins.
Soluble and insoluble fiber together make up dietary fiber. Because the amount and type of fiber varies in different foods, it’s important to eat a wide variety of fiber-rich foods as part of a healthy diet. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients, which add to their nutritional value.
Daily recommendations for adults include around 21-25 grams per day for women and 30-38 grams per day for men.
When adding fiber to your diet, it is important to slowly increase the amount of fiber you consume in a day to avoid any potential gastrointestinal discomfort such as bloating, cramping, or gas.
Additionally, since fiber absorbs water to function effectively, too much fiber without enough water can also cause abdominal discomfort, nausea, or constipation. For this reason, it is important to consume an adequate amount of water when increasing fiber intake, try to aim for at least six to eight cups of water per day.
Suggestions for increasing fiber intake include adding more whole fruits and vegetables, choosing whole grain products instead of refined grains, eating a high fiber food as a snack, or adding of beans or legumes to your diet several times a week. There are many ways to work on increasing fiber intake, but the best one is to simply set a goal and stick to it.
Try this fiber-rich recipe:
Makes 5 servings
- ½ red onion
- ½ large cucumber
- ½ cup fresh parsley or cilantro
- 15 ounces canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 15 ounces kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 15 ounces cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
Thinly slice the red onion and add it to a large bowl. Quarter the cucumber, remove the seeds and dice it, then add it to the bowl with the red onion. Use a fork to remove the leaves from the parsley, then chop it finely and add it to the bowl. Add the chickpeas, kidney beans and cannellini beans to the bowl.
In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper and whisk together. Pour dressing over salad and toss well until evenly distributed.
Recipe from tasty.co:
Madeline Henke is a dietetic intern at St. Luke’s.