November 18, 2010

Focus in on Fibers for the Health of Them

Do you eat enough fibers (yes fibers) each and every day? If you’re not eating those five (or more) servings of fruits and vegetables, making at least half your servings of grains whole (grain and wheat) and sneaking in servings of legumes, then it’s doubtful you’re getting your fill of fibers.

But you’re hardly alone! Research shows most Americans aren’t, and haven’t been, getting anywhere near the 21 to 38 grams currently recommended by nutrition experts in the government’s Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). Average dietary fiber consumption in adults runs, at best, about 14 to 17 grams per day and a 2010 review of American's fiber intake paints an even worse picture - less than 5% of people are meeting the 25 g/day goal.

The 2010 version of the Dietary Guidelines for American once again reiterates the critical need to up our dietary fiber intake. Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD chairwoman of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, when speaking at the American Dietetic Association 2010 meeting, encouraged a focus on fiber as the number one nutrition goal. Why? She noted that if you focus in on eating more fiber, it means you'll eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (beans and peas). If you eat more fiber, Van Horn went on to point out, you'll in turn have a better chance of meeting your nutrition needs for several vitamins and minerals the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, stated we don't eat enough of. On the list: vitamins A, C, D, E, and K; minerals choline, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. While not all are of these vitamins and minerals are in foods with dietary fiber, many of them are: magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamins A, C, and K.

To get you started here's a list of The Top Ten Food Sources for Fiber from my book Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy, 4th ed (American Diabetes Association, 2010).Yes, it takes some careful food selections to get to that 25 g of fiber/day.

FoodServing sizeGrams of Fiber
Bran cereal (i.e., All Bran, 100% Bran, Fiber One; some contain even extra fiber)1/2 cup10-18
Acorn or butternut squash1 cup, cooked6-8
Dried peas, beans, and lentils1/2 cup cooked5-8
Bran Flakes3/4 cup4-6
Raspberries1 cup5
Blueberries3/4 cup4
Brussel Sprouts1/2 cup4
Corn, cooked 1/2 cup4
Broccoli, spinach, or other greens1/2 cup 3
Apricots, dried8 halves3


Beyond foods with fibers providing key nutrients you’re likely lacking, research shows a growing list of health benefits from the vast variety of dietary fibers in foods. Note the plural, dietary fibers. That’s because dietary fiber is not one type of fiber, it’s hundreds, if not thousands of different fibers. Different types of fibers have different physiological effects in the body and thus different health benefits. Some fibers, help with digestion and regularity, other fibers can help improve blood lipids (fats), and others can lower blood glucose and improve insulin sensitivity. Other fibers, including resistant starches, appear from research to play interesting roles in weight control which have to do with the hunger, appetite and satiety hormones.

Beyond fibers from intact (whole food) sources, there are now a flurry of new packaged foods with a variety of fibers. Many contain the group of fibers called inulins. You might find these in yogurt, cereals, pasta, food bars and more. Inulins are usually listed on the ingredients as: chicory root, chicory root extract, vegetable fiber or inulin.

You’re also hearing more talk about resistant starch, a dietary fiber that has many of the health benefits noted above due to the way it's digested - fermentation in the large intestine/colon. You’ll find resistant starch naturally present in foods such as under ripe bananas, legumes, whole grains, rice and pasta and even pizza crust. A resistant starch ingredient, named Hi-maize, is being used in an increasing number of foods. If Hi-maize is used in a food, it’s noted on the ingredients as corn starch or resistant corn starch.

Beyond the message to eat more dietary fiber you're being urged on to eat more whole grains. Sorting out dietary fibers and whole grains, which aren't one and the same, can be confusing. End Your Confusion by reading the related blog Whole Grains and Dietary Fibers: End Your Confusion.

high fiber foods

In sum, focus on fibers – the vast variety of them - to eat healthier. Step by step eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains. For your biggest bang of fibers, eat legumes. Think about using legumes in soups, salads, casseroles. Then look around your supermarket shelves. Examine a few of the newer foods with added fibers. Check out the dietary fiber content on the nutrition facts. Ask yourself if you'll get a good dose of fiber from a serving of the food? Try a few of these foods. See which ones you enjoy. Yes, taste is king!

You’ll likely need to add a few of these high fiber foods to reach that lofty dietary fiber goal of 21 to 38 grams of fiber a day. Oh, and take it slow when adding fiber...your body will thank you. How much you can tolerate and how fast depends on your current fiber consumption, your gastrointestinal system and the types of fibers.