It seems like every day there’s a new fad when it comes to your health. Is it good to juice or not? Should you try the Whole-30 diet? Is gluten bad for you? With a myriad of questions like these floating around my office, I can always say with absolute certainty that no matter what your diet of choice is, there is one component that you need to make sure to include: fiber.
Fiber: What’s in it For You?
Chances are, fiber has health benefits for you that you didn’t know existed. There are two different kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and both are vital to a balanced diet.
Soluble fibers can be found in things like oats, fruits like bananas and root vegetables like potatoes. As soluble fiber moves through your body, it is broken down and dissolves in your digestive system. This type of fiber can help lower blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart attack and lower cholesterol. Because it can help to slow the body’s breakdown of carbohydrates and the absorption of sugar, soluble fiber also helps with blood sugar control.
Insoluble fibers are found in things like nuts and seeds and wholegrain bread. Unlike soluble fiber, these do not break down as they move through your digestive tract, so they help other foods move through your system with more ease. Insoluble fiber can also help digestive problems by keeping your bowels healthy and could potentially lower your risk of certain cancers – like colon cancer. Research suggests that fiber also decreases your risk of stroke.
Eating foods that are full of fiber can also help you feel full longer, which is a definite benefit to someone who’s watching their food intake.
Are You Getting Enough Fiber?
Chances are, you’re not getting enough fiber. In fact, research shows most people are only getting about half of their daily recommended amount of fiber per day – about 15 grams. Your daily suggested amount of fiber is closely associated with your caloric intake, but in general, women should be getting about 25 grams of fiber per day while men should be eating about 38 grams per day.
Ways to Incorporate Fiber into Your Diet
Knowing the benefits fiber has for your body, you’d probably like to know how to incorporate more into your diet. My first suggestion is to be mindful of food labels. Look for food items that are high in fiber, about 5 grams or more per serving, and low in calories. Good sources of fiber include strawberries, bananas, blueberries, raisins, pears, oranges, apples, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, corn, asparagus, cabbage, lettuce, whole wheat pasta and oats.
My suggestion is to choose a variety of fiber-rich foods so that you don’t get bored with your meals and are taking in good amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber. It’s also a good idea to start your day with a good amount of fiber, so reach for some oatmeal with strawberries instead of that processed toaster treat. Switch out some (or ideally all) of those processed refined sugars we all eat so often for their high-fiber cousins. For example, exchange white pasta for whole wheat pasta. Try brown rice instead of white, and switch to a whole wheat bread. Your body will thank you!
Dr. Michelle Udayamurthy is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold. She cares for her patients at the Main Campus. She views the doctor-patient relationship as one of the most important parts of healthcare. Her clinical interest is preventive medicine.