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Are you getting your fill of fiber?

August 25, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE

Eating a little more fiber could make a big difference in your health. Fiber not only promotes general wellness and intestinal health, it lowers the risk of developing many diseases and conditions, such as heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain cancers, which can put your life in danger.

Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of a plant and is available in two forms. Soluble fiber has a high water-holding capacity; oatmeal is an example. Insoluble fiber is not digestible and is the type found in dry beans. Both are necessary for a healthy diet.

  • Eating a high-fiber diet reduces your risk of death from a heart attack. Fiber can help lower cholesterol by absorbing fat and cholesterol from food. Fiber also helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and keeps your intestines working properly. Eating enough fiber also helps you feel less hungry.

    Many adults come up short on fiber. The average American eats 10 to 14 grams of fiber daily; however, the recommended intake is 20 to 30 grams every day.

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Visit the National Fiber Council's website (http://www.nationalfiber council.org ) for information about the benefits of dietary fiber, a fiber calculator, fitness and fiber, and healthful eating.

Increasing your fiber intake doesn't mean drastic changes. Simple changes add up and can improve overall health.

  • Choose fiber-rich foods, such as whole grain bread (3 grams fiber per serving), brown rice (3 grams fiber per serving), whole-wheat pasta (6 grams fiber per serving), fruits and vegetables (2 to 3 grams fiber per serving), whole grain cereals (5 to 14 grams fiber per serving) and dry beans (7 grams fiber per serving). Filling up on high-fiber foods means that you will have less room for high-fat, high-calorie, low-fiber foods.

  • Start slowly. Try to mix your standard choices with the higher fiber ones. As your tastebuds adjust, increase the amount of high fiber foods. Gradually work your way to 20 to 30 grams. This will help lessen the side effects associated changing to a high-fiber diet, such as stomach discomfort.

  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep things running smoothly.

  • Getting the health benefit from fiber doesn't mean just eating oatmeal and bran flakes, although they are both good sources of fiber. You have many options, which make it easier to eat more fiber.

    The following examples illustrate how small changes can help you meet the goal of 20 to 30 grams of fiber daily.

  • Breakfast: 3/4 cup bran flakes, 1 cup skim milk, 1 banana, 1/2 cup berries equals 9 grams

  • Lunch: 2 slices whole wheat bread, 2 ounces fat- free turkey, 1 tomato, 2 lettuce leaves, 1 apple equals 11 grams

  • Dinner: 1 whole wheat tortilla, 1/2 cup black beans, 1/2 cup cooked peppers, onions and tomatoes equals 12 grams

    Total day's fiber: 32 grams

    If you are thinking about using a fiber supplement to meet the goal of 20 to 30 grams daily, talk with your health care provider first. Supplements only provide fiber, not the other compounds, like vitamins, found in high fiber foods.

    They also have a higher rate of side effects, such as stomach discomfort, and can decrease mineral absorption.

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

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