You probably associate dietary fiber with constipation relief. But did you know that fiber actually has many other health benefits?
Dietary fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. Found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, it’s easy to incorporate into your menu.
What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber is the part of plant-based foods your body doesn’t absorb. Instead of getting digested, fiber passes through your body intact. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Barley, oats, beans, peas, apples, citrus fruits, and carrots are good sources of soluble fiber
Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It promotes regular bowel movements and relieves constipation. It’s found in wheat bran and whole wheat flour, nuts, beans, cauliflower, and potatoes.
This is some of what fiber does for you:
- Maintains bowel health and normalizes bowel movements
- Lowers the risk of hemorrhoids
- Fights heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels
- Aids in controlling diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels
- Achieves and maintains healthy weight
- May reduce chances of colorectal cancer
How much dietary fiber do I need?
The daily recommended intake for fiber varies based on your gender and decreases as you age. Women age 50 and older should consume 21 grams of fiber a day, and men 50 and older should take in 30 grams. Men and women under 50 should get 38 and 25 grams a day respectively.
Many plant-based foods have both soluble and insoluble fiber. Eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes to get the maximum health benefit.
Here are some ways to get fiber into your diet:
- Eat whole grain cereal or bran for breakfast
- Choose whole fruit instead of fruit juice
- Aim for five or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day
- Switch to whole grain breads and snacks—at least half your grains should be whole grains
- Add raisins, seeds, or nuts to your salad
- Add chickpeas or beans to your soup or salad
Just a word of caution: adding too much fiber too quickly can cause stomach pains, bloating, and gas. If you haven’t been eating a lot of high-fiber foods, introduce them slowly, over a few weeks. Also, make sure to drink lots of water. Fiber is most effective when it absorbs water, so drink up.
Some older people have trouble getting enough fiber from their diet. Fiber supplements are generally safe to take, although it is always better to get your fiber from food if possible. If you want to start taking a fiber supplement, talk to your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you.
It’s important to maintain good nutritional intake as you age. At Park Crescent Health and Rehab, we take care to load up our resident menu with high-fiber foods to support optimal health.