When it comes to fiber, most people don’t realize the myriad of health benefits it provides and assume a bowl of oatmeal in the morning and a small salad with dinner is adequate. While you don’t need to stock your refrigerator with wood chips or pour a bag of flax seed over your cereal, increasing your daily fiber can result in a flatter stomach, more energy and less stress.
Most Americans consume only 10-15 grams of fiber a day, but the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 25 grams for teenage girls and women under 50. Teenage boys and men under 50 (who consume more calories than women) need 30-38 grams of dietary fiber daily.
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber partially dissolves in water and forms a gel in your digestive tract. This gel slows down digestion and makes you feel full, which helps control weight. Soluble fiber can also help lower LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol. Sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, oat cereal, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, beans, dried peas, blueberries, cucumbers, celery and carrots.
Insoluble fiber has a laxative effect and adds bulk to the diet, helping to prevent constipation. These fibers do not dissolve in water so they pass through the gastrointestinal tract relatively intact and speed up the passage of food and waste. Sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, seeds, nuts, couscous, brown rice, zucchini, celery, broccoli, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, raisins, grapes, fruit and root vegetable skins.
If your typical day begins with coffee and a doughnut, here are five rock solid reasons to add more fiber to your diet:
Your Heart — Increased fiber intake means decreased cardiovascular problems. A Harvard study found that for every 10 grams of fiber eaten daily, heart attack risk drops by 14 percent, and the chance of dying from other cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke, decreases by 27 percent. To give you an idea of what 10 grams of fiber actually is, think 1 apple and 1 banana.
Your Blood Pressure — Hypertension is a big problem these days, especially with the amount of stress most individuals experience in a hectic lifestyle. Food is digested more slowly in a high fiber diet and this causes the pancreas to release insulin more slowly. By slowing down the entire process, your systolic blood pressure, the pressure exerted as your heart beats, is also lowered.
Your Waistline — Fiber binds to “bile acids” and removes them from the small intestine. This means your body is less likely to absorb fat and more likely to pass it through. Insoluble fibers increases bulk, and as a result, digested food sits for a shorter period of time in the intestine and less starches and sugars are absorbed into the body. You also feel fuller faster! But while increased fiber can greatly assist in weight control, be warned that too much fiber intake will result in inadequate nutrient absorption - which can decrease energy levels and lower the metabolism. So hold back on munching down that giant bag of spinach and space out your fiber evenly throughout the day.
Your Colon — Many of the foods we consume contain carcinogens and toxins, whether from processing chemicals, pesticides or cooking. These potential cancer causing agents, especially when consumed in high concentrations, can remain in contact with the colon wall for long periods of time. A high fiber diet will not only reduce colonic pressure by reducing constipation but also produce a large stool that passes through the bowel more quickly. That means less exposure to toxins and a lower risk of pressure related health problems like diverticulitis.
Your Diabetes Risk — A high fiber diet reduces the absorption of glucose into the blood, thus stabilizing blood sugar levels. This reduces stress on the pancreas and lowers the risk of developing insulin resistance, which is one of the chronic problems that can arise with “roller-coaster” blood sugar levels. As a bonus, whole grains (a big source of fiber) contain magnesium, which can also control the body’s glucose and insulin response.
So how do you ensure you’re consuming enough fiber to take advantage of these healthy benefits? Try this strategy: 1) A bowl of oatmeal or quinoa in the morning with sliced fruit, like apples or strawberries; 2) a fresh piece of fruit as a mid-morning snack; 3) a large salad for lunch or in the afternoon with 3-4 different types of vegetables or fruits, such as carrots, alfalfa sprouts, diced cucumbers, tomatoes or pears; 4) one handful of whole, raw almonds in the afternoon as a snack; 5) one large serving of vegetables with dinner, such as sautéed asparagus or steamed broccoli.
Gas and bloating may occur the first week you increase your fiber intake, but once your body adapts to this new healthy lifestyle, side effects disappear and you’ll reap long-lasting benefits.
Barbara Hoots is a veteran Spinning(R) instructor at Tony’s Gym and a contributing columnist for Spinning News and Indoor Cycle Instructor Pro. She has designed award-winning studios for the U.S. Army, Half Moon Resort in Jamaica and numerous health clubs and universities. Visit her website at www.spinroomdesign.com.