What is fiber?
Roughage, bulk and bran are all terms that are used to mean fiber. Fiber is the part of the plant food that cannot be digested by humans. It is found in breads, fruits, cereals, vegetables and grains. Surprising but true: Animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products do not contain fiber.
Fiber comes in two basic forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water. Foods that are high in soluble fiber include fruits, vegetables, oat bran, barley and some beans. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water but retains water, and is used to soften and build up stool, thus preventing or easing constipation. It can be found in vegetables, whole grains and wheat bran.
Why do you need fiber?
A regular daily intake of fiber has many advantages and can help even if you are healthy. Fiber can help keep bowels working regularly, and help prevent constipation. Research shows that fiber can also reduce your chance of getting colon cancer. By increasing food bulk, fiber gives your brain more time to realize that your body is no longer hungry and helps prevent overeating. By providing bulk and softening stool, the pressure of hard bowel movements is eliminated. This decreases the risk of irritable bowel syndrome. Soluble fiber is also thought to lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
How much fiber do you need?
Most Americans eat less than the recommended amount of fiber daily. The daily recommendation is 20-35 grams per day. Eating too much fiber can cause diarrhea and bloating. Because people vary in their sensitivity to fiber, the amount that a person can eat also varies. A good target is to eat the amount that results in normal bowels habits.
Where can you get fiber?
Ideally, you should be able to get all the fiber you need by eating high fiber foods.
Fiber supplements should only be used when other restrictions prevent this. Eating foods in their natural state, before peeling or juicing, can increase fiber.
Cereals are a quick way to get fiber. Fruits can provide up to five grams of fiber in a single serving. Fruits and vegetable with edible skins are higher in fiber. Cooking vegetable does not change the fiber content. Breads with whole grain flours and added fiber are also a good source of fiber. Bran muffins are popular as well, but many contain high levels of fat. Legumes and beans contain up to 12 grams of fiber per cup. High fiber snacks include seeds, nuts and popcorn.
Fiber is also available in powder form. Consult your physician before using these products if you have questions or problems, or are taking any other medications. Remember to always read and follow the directions on the labels when using these products.