Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fabulous Fiber

summarized from Harvard Health

Fiber is the part of plant foods that the body cannot digest. It moves through the digestive system, absorbing water. This helps eliminate food waste from the body more quickly. Since fiber is not

absorbed, it's not a nutrient. Rather, we refer to fiber as a "component" of food.

Fiber is found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, dry beans and peas, nuts, seeds, bread, and cereals. (It is not found in animal products - meat, milk, eggs.) Fiber can also be added to foods during processing.

Fiber's Health Benefits
Fiber comes in two varieties: soluble, which dissolves in water, and insoluble, which does not. Although fiber does not nourish our bodies, it has other ways of promoting good health as the chart below illustrates.

Soluble Fiber Insoluble Fiber
Name Pectins, gums, mucilages Cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin
What it does Dissolves in water, forming a gel in intestines Holds on to water, moving waste through intestines
How it promotes good health lowers LDL or bad cholesterol. Regulates the body's use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check. Helps push food through the intestines quickly, promoting regularity and helping prevent constipation.
Where it's found Dried beans and peas, lentils, oats, barley, apples, bananas, citrus fruits, berries, pears, carrots Whole-wheat products, wheat and corn bran, brown rice, oats, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, fruit skins (apple, peach, pear)

How Much Fiber Do You Need Each Day?
The current recommendation for adults is 20 to 35 grams. The average American falls short of the ideal and eats only 10 to 15 grams of dietary fiber a day

(Children over age 2 should consume an amount equal to their age plus 5 grams a day, so a four year old, for example, should get 9 grams a day.)

To get more fiber add more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet with these easy tips:

  • Add some berries on your breakfast cereal
  • Try an apple with peanut butter for a mid-morning snack.
  • Have vegetables at each meal; raw, steam, or grilled
  • Dip baby carrots and celery in hummus for an afternoon snack
  • Add beans to your soups, pasta dishes, salads, etc.
  • Always choose whole grains: breads, pastas, or brown rice, and ensure they say whole wheat in the ingredients.

Start slowly when you up your fiber intake. This will help relieve the bloating, cramping, and gas that some people experience when eating more fiber. Be sure to drink more water as well to help the fiber pass through the intestines more easily. Getting fiber naturally from foods assures you all of the other phytonutrients as well. Fiber-only supplements, however, are available for a fiber boost.

How Much Fiber is in Food? Label Reading 101

You can figure out how much fiber a food contains by reading the package label, and for fruits and vegetables take a look at teh chart below to find out who rains supreme in fiber. Keep in mind that the amount of fiber listed is based on the serving size, not the entire package. Foods that are an excellent source of fiber contain 5 grams or more per serving. See the chart below for examples of the fiber content of various foods.

Food Serving Size Grams of Fiber
Bran cereal 1/3 cup 8.3
Quinoa 1/2 cup 5
Bran flakes 3/4 cup 5
Bulgur (cooked) 1/2 cup 4.1
Oatmeal (cooked) 1 cup 4
Brown rice 1/2 cup 3.5
Cream of wheat, instant 1 cup 2.9
Whole wheat bread 1 slice 2
Raspberries 1 cup 8.4
Prunes, stewed 1/2 cup 8
Blackberries 1 cup 7.6
Apricots, dried 1/2 cup 4.8
Pears 1 medium 4
Blueberries 1 cup 3.9
Apple 1 medium 3.7
Strawberries 1 cup 3.3
Banana 1 medium 2.8
Artichoke 1 medium 6.5
Winter squash (cooked) 1 cup 5.7
Collard greens (boiled) 1 cup 5.3
Snow peas (edible pod peas) 1 cup 4.5
Spinach (cooked) 1 cup 4.3
Broccoli (raw; cooked) 1 cup; 1/2 cup 2.6
Kidney beans, red, canned 1/2 cup 8.2
Baked beans 1/2 cup 7
Navy beans, canned 1/2 cup 6.7
Refried beans (edible pod peas) 1/2 cup 6
Chickpeas, canned 1/2 cup 5.3

Fiber is in the Fruit Not the Juice

Juice is the concentrated form of fruit. Even though no sugar is added to the juice, it has more sugar than the whole fruit. Juice also lacks the fiber that naturally occurs in fruit. In general, the closer foods are to their natural, unprocessed state, the better. The chart below provides an example with apples:

Food Serving Size Grams of Fiber
Apple with peel One medium 4
Apple without peel One medium 2.1
Applesauce 1/2 cup 1.5
Apple juice 1 cup 0.25

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