Fiber has become a nutrition buzz word and with good reason. Although it has many health benefits for all ages, fiber is often lacking in a highly processed diet.
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and may reduce risks associated with high cholesterol. Insoluble fiber does not break down when eaten, so it helps maintain digestive health. Usually both types are lumped together on food labels under the generic term "fiber."
Most adults should have 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day (soluble and insoluble combined). For children, you should add 10 grams to the child's age (until they are 18). If you currently do not eat much fiber, however, you should increase your consumption gradually. A sudden increase in fiber can cause some minor stomach discomfort, but it is easily remedied by drinking extra water.
Fiber is found in many plant-based foods. You can find amounts listed on nutrition facts labels. The amount will be shown in grams, but it may be easier to compare the percent daily value. For example, a product that contains 5 grams does not sound like a lot of fiber, but it is about 20 percent of your daily need, and that food would be considered a good source of fiber. Whole-grain products, fruits and vegetables, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds are all good sources of fiber.
Fiber-added products and fiber supplements are also options. Although these may be good choices for some people, I strongly recommend eating more natural sources of fiber, as the foods are nutritious and have additional health benefits beyond fiber.
High-fiber foods include:
▶ ½ cup cooked beans (kidney, black, lima, etc.), which equals 6 to 9 grams.
▶ ⅓ cup 100 percent bran cereal, which equals 9 grams.
▶ ½ cup chick peas, split peas or cow peas, which equals 5 to 8 grams.
▶ One medium pear, which equals 5 grams.
▶ ½ cup cooked green peas, which equals 4 grams.
▶ ½ cup raspberries, which equals 4 grams.
▶ ½ cup cooked broccoli, which equals 3 grams.
▶ ½ cup instant oatmeal, which equals 3 grams.
▶ ¼ cup dry roasted peanuts, which equals 3 grams.
If you are not currently eating much fiber, you should increase your fruit and vegetable intake first. It is usually fairly easy to substitute a piece of fruit for one of your snacks or make sure you serve vegetables with every dinner.
Substituting whole grains can be a little harder if you have picky eaters in your household. Try serving the whole grains your family already likes, such as oatmeal or light popcorn, more often. Whole-wheat pasta has more fiber than most whole-wheat breads and may be an easier switch.
Since beans are such a wonderful source of fiber, you may want to try incorporating them into your meal plan more often. Chili and baked beans are pretty familiar and a good starting point. Black beans can make an inexpensive and easy taco filler. Chick peas tossed with a little Italian dressing taste great on a salad (and make it more filling). Fiber is a pretty amazing nutrient. It reduces your risk for heart disease and certain cancers, provides a sensation of fullness to help with weight control and maintains digestive regularity. Considering that it is so good for you and is in so many foods, I urge you to try and consume the recommended amount.
Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.