The Scoop on Fiber

Fiber – Not just your grandmother’s morning supplement

What is it?

Dietary fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate (a complex carbohydrate) that passes through the gut. There are two types of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber is able to absorb water, so it actually forms a fermentable gel in the digestive system that slows digestion and can lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber is unable to absorb water and adds bulk to the stool, speeding up the transit time in the digestive system.

Generally speaking both fibers help with regularity, motility, and have a medley of other health benefits.

So, what’s the big deal?

Americans consume an average of 15g of fiber per day, with most people considering this amount sufficient when asked about their fiber intake. Interesting, though, is that the recommended fiber intake is at least double the average intake.

With a diet higher in fiber shown to aid in everything from weight loss and constipation all the way to heart disease, looking into your fiber intake may not be a bad idea. Below is a summary of findings pulled from Precision Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, and the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus.

 

Body Region or Condition(s) Relevant Researched Benefits of Fiber
Heart (Cardiovascular Disease)
  • One study of 16,000 people followed for more than 25yrs showed that higher consumption of beans decreased the risk of death by heart disease (up to 82% reduction)
  • A Harvard study of over 40,000 people found that a high dietary fiber intake was linked to 40% decrease in risk of coronary heart disease.
  • According to Harvard, a higher fiber intake was also linked to a lower risk of metabolic syndrome – which increases the risk of developing heart disease.
Hyperlipidemia (High Blood Fats and Cholesterol)
  • Fiber helps to bind and eliminate these fats and cholesterol.
  • In randomized controlled trials (RCTs), vegetarian diets (higher fiber, among other things) were associated with 20% lower total cholesterol and 35% in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Diverticulitis and Constipation
  • Diverticulitis is an inflammation of the intestine, and one of the most common disorders of the colon. A long-term follow-up study found that eating higher fiber (particularly insoluble) was associated with about 40% lower risk of diverticular disease.
  • Fibers prevention of diverticulitis is thought to be because of the added bulk preventing herniations in the colon during contractions.
  • Constipation is the most common GI complaint in the U.S. and the consumption of fiber is thought to relieve and prevent constipation.

Interesting Note: Harvard recommends oat and wheat bran fiber over fiber from fruits and vegetables in relation to constipation (no citation or reference listed in relation to this claim).

Diabetes
  • Fiber is thought to help with Type II Diabetes due to its influence over blood sugar and insulin release.
  • Two Harvard studies found that diets lower in fiber and higher in high glycemic index (GI) foods more than double the risk of Type II diabetes. Making a diet high in cereal fibers and lower GI foods linked to a lower risk of Type II diabetes.
Colon Cancer (conflicts in research)
  • According to Precision Nutrition, “”A study of over 500,000 people in 10 European countries showed that people who ate more than 30g of fiber per day had approximately half the risk of colon cancer as those who ate 12-15g per day.”
  • In contrast, a Harvard study of over 80,000 people followed for 16yrs found that dietary fiber was not strongly associated with risk of either colon cancer or the precursor polyps.

 

Disclaimer: This article (and AZVHealth as a resource in general) is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any diseases. This is not intended in any way to be a presentation of medical advice or recommendation, and Mark Heisig/AZVHealth assumes no responsibility for any outcomes as a result of this article. The above chart was simply meant to display the research and impact that fiber may have on bigger issues in health. For further information, clarification, and recommendation please seek advice from your current doctor and/or healthcare provider.

Where can I get it?

The most straight forward answer is “plants.”

Still generally, but more specifically, most resources agree upon whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, and nuts as the best sources of dietary fiber.

How much do smart people say I should eat?

The recommendations range anywhere from 20g to 45g per day, with variations between men, women, and children.

Overall though, the average recommendation tends to lie around 30-35g of fiber per day.

It is recommended that this intake be met by increasing consumption of the general categories of foods listed above (fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc…).

It is cautioned that this increase in dietary fiber be done slowly, if your diet currently lacks, as a rapid increase can lead to gas, bloating, cramping, and abdominal pain. This problem tends to naturally disappear as the gut bacteria (flora) get used to the fiber intake.

Also, as fiber (soluble) absorbs water, it is recommended that water intake increases with fiber intake to prevent dehydration and promote good movement of stools.

What does 30-35 grams of fiber even look like?

With recommendations that range from 20-45g it can leave one to wonder, “What the heck does a gram of fiber even look like?” Fear not my friends, below is a chart of some high fibers foods, per the recommendation of a Health.com gallery, there is an “example day” following the chart, and at the bottom of this article you can look through the resources for even more foods and their fiber contents.

For starters, those “50/50” or “Spring Mix” salads usually contain 1g of fiber per cup. Make a quick 2 cup salad, topped with tomato, corn, some whole grain tortilla strips, and a salsa dressing for a southwest style salad – and you added an easy, nutrient-loaded bit of fiber to your diet.

High-Fiber Foods (and their fiber content in grams)
Single Ear of Corn (Half a cup of kernels) – 2g 1 cup Raspberries – 8g
Commercially Prepped Whole Wheat Bread – 2g per slice 1 cup Edamame Beans – 8g
Handful (1/4 cup) Almonds – 3g 1 cup Garbanzo Beans – 10g
3 cups of popcorn – 3.5g 1 Avocado – 10g
1 cup Brown Rice – 3.5g 1 cup Kidney Beans – 11g
1 medium-sized Apple – 4.5g 1 cup White Beans – 12.5g
1 cup boiled broccoli – 5g 1 cup Black Beans – 15g
1 medium pear (with skin) – 5.5g 1 cup Lentils – 15g
1 cup pearled, cooked Barley – 6g 1 cup Split Peas – 16g
½ cup Artichoke Hearts – 7g 1 cup Oats – 16.5g

Example time…

Let’s say someone is math-savvy, eats three square meals, and is trying to pace themselves in meeting their dietary fiber requirements. This would mean this individuals would need to eat roughly 10g of fiber per meal, and have higher fiber snacks for extra-credit. In the real world, counting calories, grams, percent daily intake, etc… gets insanely tedious and frustrating (speaking from experience). Below is a sample day that meets the recommended dietary intake of fiber.

My intended takeaway from this sample is to demonstrate the simplicity of merely making more conscious decisions to add whole, higher-fiber foods in order to meet your dietary intake needs vs reading labels, busting out calculators/apps/etc…

In the morning (11g fiber)…

Include oatmeal with half a cup of oats (8g fiber), slice a whole banana (3g) and toss it into the oatmeal. You can be creative with the oats, if you don’t like oatmeal, adding the oats to a smoothie with fruits and veggies for a fiber-loaded breakfast.

Mid-morning snack (4.5g fiber)…

Cut bell peppers into 1 cup worth of slices (1.5g), then take the slices and dip them in to hummus (3tbps = 3g). This makes a delicious, refreshing snack. You can also dip carrots in hummus – or ditch the hummus and use some homemade guacamole or mashed avocado for the dip.

Lunch (4g fiber)…

If you like sandwiches at lunch, simply swap out for some whole grain bread (the less ingredients the better). This 4g, with 2g per slice, can be complemented with a salad, like the one mentioned earlier, or fruit.

Mid-afternoon snack (4.5g fiber)…

Eat an apple. Easy.

Dinner (12g fiber)…

Make anything you’d like for dinner, and complement it with a side of 1 cup of quinoa (12g). Quinoa is a delicious, whole grain with a complete amino acid profile (meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids).

Quick Conclusion

In total, this day of eating brought you 36g of fiber! That wasn’t so bad was it?

Fiber itself contains all of the benefits noted above – and – because it is found mostly in plants and whole foods, eating enough fiber contains the added benefit of getting plenty of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and water that these foods naturally bring with them. This means better health, energy, and vitality for you all around.

Resources

  1. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-fibre
  2. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
  3. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002470.htm
  4. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20553010,00.html
  5. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/

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