Fiber. Images of bran cereal and fiber supplement-pushing senior citizens come to mind. While this nutrient isn’t as exciting as its dietary counterparts, it has more health benefits than you think.
From helping move things along in your colon to preventing disease, fiber could be the ticket to better health.
Scott & White gastroenterologist Mark A. Jeffries, DO, explains its benefits and how you can get more in your diet.
What does fiber do for our bodies?
“Fiber certainly benefits the digestive tract,” Dr. Jeffries said. “It adds bulk to the stool and prevents things like constipation.”
People who don’t eat a lot of fiber might have trouble going to the bathroom or may even have bouts of diarrhea or loose stool.
And unlike other food substances like high amounts of protein, simple carbohydrates or sugars, fiber allows you to feel fuller faster.
“If you eat a diet that’s very low in fiber, such as a lot of sugary drinks or a high-fat diet, you may not feel like you’ve eaten enough and you’ll keep eating,” the gastroenterologist said. “So, fiber acts as a food intake regulator.”
Not only can fiber help you eat less, but it may also benefit your overall health.
“It’s been suggested in various medical studies that a people with a higher fiber diet have fewer instances of cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” he said. “And if they have diabetes, eating more fiber could help them better control their diabetes.”
How much fiber should we be getting on a daily basis?
In general, our society doesn’t eat enough fiber.
Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition estimates that the average American adult consumes only about 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day, which is half of what they should be consuming.
But Dr. Jeffries said that they can easily be remedied by including 25 to 35 grams of fiber to your daily diet.
How can we get more fiber in our diets?
“Good sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” he said.
According to the National Fiber Council, raspberries, pinto beans and All-Bran cereal provide some of the highest grams of fiber per serving.
Here are a few other sources of fiber that might surprise you:
- Peanuts, dry roasted (6 grams for ½ cup)
- Spaghetti, cooked (2 grams for 1 cup)
- Wheat germ, toasted (3 grams for 2 tablespoons)
And if you want an easy way to add up your daily amount of fiber on the go, there are several phone and tablet applications available to help you keep track of what you’re eating.
Dr. Jeffries suggests The Daily Plate – Mobile Edition (sponsored by livestrong.com) or Lose It!, which is free.
What if extra fiber causes…gas?
Through the digestive tract, fiber is acted upon by natural bacteria, which are in the gut. Through this action, gas is formed.
“Some people are more sensitive to that feeling of gas or bloating,” the doctor said. “It may also depend on the source of fiber. Certain types of fiber, like supplemental fiber with psyllium products, might be more gas-producing.”
If someone is trying to eat a high-fiber diet and they feel like the gas is excessive, they can try different products and start with a lower dose.
“You’re training your digestive tract to see a little bit more fiber, a little bit more bulk,” he said. “Start with a lower dose and build up over time, so you’re body can get used to it.”
Dr. Jeffries said the best way to regulate your fiber is to learn how to read food packages and estimate how much fiber you’re getting a day.
For more information about fiber, visit the Scott & White Health Library.
How do you get your daily fiber? Have you seen a difference in your health with a high-fiber diet?