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Lynn Little: Strive for a fiber-rich diet

May 12, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

An important nutritional guideline to remember is to include adequate fiber in our diets to lower the risk of certain chronic diseases.

Most Americans consume about half the recommended amount of fiber. Women younger than 50 should aim for 25 grams of fiber, while men need 38 grams of fiber daily. As people age, the need for calories decreases. So for 50 and older, women need 21 grams and men need 30 grams of fiber daily.

Children also benefit from fiber in their diets however, they require less than adults do. For children ages 3 to 18 the American Dietetics Association suggests using the child's age plus five to determine the grams of dietary fiber they should eat daily.

Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

You're making the best choices if you eat food containing naturally occurring fiber more often. Fiber is not naturally present in animal foods such as dairy products and meat. Eating fiber-fortified foods is not the same as eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

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Though it's quick and easy to grab a high-fiber breakfast bar and a fiber-fortified yogurt, you are not getting the same benefits as you would from a bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal with berries and milk. Eating a variety of foods ensures the most health benefits.

Don't depend on the label claims on the front of the package to make the best choices.

Instead, check the list of ingredients. Avoid being tricked by buying a food with a misleading claim on the front and only a small amount of whole grain at the end of the ingredient list.

Load your grocery cart with fiber-rich foods for the best health benefits. Some good choices include:

o dried beans and quick-cooking legumes such as lentils

o fresh fruits and vegetables

o whole grains such as brown rice, farro and rolled oats

o 100 percent whole wheat bread

o 100 percent whole-grain pasta

o nuts and seeds

One good option for adding fiber to your diet is whole-grain pasta. Look for the phrase "100 percent whole wheat" or "100 percent whole grain." Check the ingredients label for "whole wheat flour" or "whole durum wheat flour." Semolina" or durum wheat flour minus the word whole makes it a refined grain. Pasta made with tomatoes or spinach may contain only a small amount of vegetables for coloring and don't make a significant contribution toward the fiber content.

Try these suggestions for high-fiber meals and snacks:

o For breakfast, choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal - 5 or more grams of fiber a serving. Opt for cereals with "bran" or "fiber" in the name. You could also add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.

o Look for breads that list whole wheat, whole-wheat flour or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label. Look for a brand with at least 2 grams of dietary fiber a serving. Experiment with brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta and bulgur.

o Substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour when baking. Whole-grain flour is heavier than white flour. In yeast breads, use a bit more yeast or let the dough rise longer. When using baking powder, increase it by 1 teaspoon for every 3 cups of whole-grain flour. Try adding crushed bran cereal or unprocessed wheat bran to muffins, cakes and cookies.

o Add pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces. For example, mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce or toss fresh baby carrots into stews.

o Eat more beans, peas and lentils. Add kidney beans to canned soup or a green salad. Make nachos with refried black beans, lots of fresh veggies, whole-wheat tortilla chips and salsa.

o Apples, bananas, oranges, pears and berries are good sources of fiber.

For snacks fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables, low-fat popcorn and whole-grain crackers are all good choices. A handful of nuts are also a healthful, high-fiber snack choice.

Experiment in the kitchen and before you know it, healthful whole grains and other high-fiber foods will be a dietary staples.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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