Eat more fiber. You’ve probably heard it before. But do you know why fiber is so good for your health?

Dietary fiber — found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes — is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. Foods containing fiber can provide other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.

Selecting tasty foods that provide fiber and have a low glycemic value isn’t difficult. Find out how much dietary fiber you need, the foods that contain it, and how to add them to meals and snacks.

Fiber is the part of plant-based foods that our gut can’t digest or break up. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Does the type of fiber really matter? It depends on what you want. If you want to reduce heart disease or control your blood sugar, you need soluble fiber. If you are solving gastrointestinal issues, you need both types.

Soluble fiber is found in all fruits and some vegetables. Soluble fiber can ease both constipation and diarrhea. During digestion, soluble fiber turns into a soft, sticky gel that attracts water, making the stool softer and making it easier to “go.” If stool is too loose, soluble fiber absorbs extra water and firms things up. 

Soluble fiber also boosts the good bacteria in your gut as a prebiotic, which are linked to improved immunity, anti-inflammatory effects, and even enhanced mood. These plants are food for your microbiome that allows your gut bugs to make short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). One of the main SCFAs in your body is butyrate, which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects on your gut as well as your digestive system. This boosts your immune system and improves conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease. 

As a Person Living with Diabetes (PWD) there are questions about soluble fibre raising blood sugar as it converts to SCFAs but these “sugars” intestinal gluconeogenesis (IGN) are used in the intestines and through this process of conversion seems to have a blood sugar balancing effect on the body. 

Low glycemic Soluble Fibres include; 

Asparagus, 3.4g per cup, Brussel sprouts 3.9g per cup, cabbage cooked 1.5g per cup, flax seeds 13g per cup Kolrabi raw 3.4g per cup and zucchini cooked 1.8g per cup

Insoluble fiber is what people call “roughage.” It would be easy to get your daily requirements from cereals and grains. Unfortunately these also tend to have a high glycemic value and are not recommended on a lower carbohydrate diet which is optimum for a person with diabetes or metabolic challenges. It’s also in the skins of fruit like apples and pears, the tougher parts of broccoli, greens, and cabbage, or the strings in celery. It does not dissolve in water or get absorbed into the blood stream. Insoluble fiber adds bulk which helps food pass from the stomach into the intestines. It also helps you feel full which can help with food cravings.

Low glycemic Insoluble fiber include;

Avocado 13.5g fibre per fruit, Nuts are high in both fat and fiber. In ¼ cup of almonds you get 4.5 grams of fiber. Nut flours also make a great substitute for wheat flour. Berries, for each cup of berries, strawberries and blueberries give about 3-4 grams of fiber, but blackberries pack 7.4 grams of fiber, and raspberries have 8 grams. Seeds, for every tablespoon of whole seeds, flax provide 3.5 grams of fiber, and chia seeds have a whopping 4.1 grams

Dark leafy lettuce, Kale, spinach chard and collard greens are excellent sources of both fibres 

The key to helping fiber do its job is water. Too much fiber without enough water makes really hard stool into concrete. For adults, a good goal is 16 ounces of water at least four times a day. For children, your dietitian should give you fluid goals to meet each day. It’s also important to add in fiber gradually to avoid extra gas or bloating.

How much fiber do you need?

The Institute of Medicine, which provides science-based advice on matters of medicine and health, gives the following daily fiber recommendations for adults:

Total Daily Fiber recommendations for adults

Aged 50 and younger, men need 38g and women 25g. While over 50 men need 30g and women 21g.

Carb Counting and Fibre

Basically, total carbs are all the carbohydrates found in your food; net carbs are the total carbs minus the fibre. When you are eating non-starchy vegetables, avocados, low-fructose fruits, nuts and seeds count net carbs by subtracting total fibre from total carbs

If you are eating processed food (even healthy ones) or any foods other than whole foods, don’t fool yourself count total carbs less the insoluble fibre. Remember that the more a food is processed the faster it will enter your system and spike your blood sugar. Test this by checking the effect on your BS after meals. Compare like calories of whole foods to refined foods and see for yourself

Refined or processed foods — such as canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white breads and pastas, and non-whole-grain cereals — are lower in fiber. The grain-refining process removes the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which lowers its fiber content. Enriched foods have some of the B vitamins and iron added back after processing, but not the fiber.

Whole foods rather than fiber supplements are generally better. Fiber supplements — such as Metamucil, Citrucel and FiberCon — don’t provide the variety of fibers, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients that whole foods do.

However, some people may still need a fiber supplement if dietary changes aren’t sufficient or if they have certain medical conditions, such as constipation, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome. Check with your doctor before taking fiber supplements.

High-fiber foods are good for your health. But adding too much fiber too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fiber in your diet gradually over a few weeks. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change.

Author’s Note: This article is based on my own personal experience and research. It is not meant to be used in place of your health practitioners advice and is for information only.

Learn more about our Contributing Author Chef Jamie Smye here.

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2019-08-07T19:42:16+00:00August 8th, 2019|Food, Managing, Patient-Centered|

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