Dietary fiber is the edible portions of plant cell walls that are resistant to digestion. It is an extremely beneficial part of our diet, which helps to fight many diseases and helps in weight loss by reducing food intake at meals. This is because fiber-rich foods take longer to digest and thus cause an increased feeling of fullness and satisfaction. In addition, fiber slows the entrance of glucose (sugar) into the blood stream, therefore regulating large blood glucose and insulin spikes. This is very important in the prevention and treatment of Diabetes. It is important to recognize is that it is much healthier for our systems to get as much of our fiber from whole foods (not processed foods such as the addition of chicory root to packaged foods, or supplements) as possible. Fiber must come from plant-based foods.
The recommended fiber intake is 25 – 40 grams per day for adults. This recommended amount should come from a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber, since there are different benefits for each type of fibre. While it is NOT necessary to track, a 3:1 ratio of insoluble to soluble fiber is typical. Although neither type of fiber is absorbed by the body, they have different properties when mixed with water. However, due to overlap in function between the two types, the National Academy of Sciences has recommended that these terms “gradually be eliminated and replaced by specific beneficial physiological effects of fiber generally”. Thus you may hear less about “soluble vs. insoluble fiber” in the future.
Soluble fiber is absorbed in water. When mixed with water it forms a gel-like substance and swells. Soluble fiber has many benefits, including moderating blood glucose levels and lowering cholesterol. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats and oatmeal, legumes (peas, beans, lentils), barley, fruits and vegetables (especially oranges, apples and carrots).
Insoluble fiber does not absorb or dissolve in water. It passes through our digestive system in close to its original form. Insoluble fiber offers many benefits to intestinal health, including a reduction in the risk and occurrence of colorectal cancer, hemorrhoids, and constipation. Most of insoluble fibers come from the bran layers of cereal grains.
Since dietary fiber is found only in plant products (i.e., nuts, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables), these are essential to a healthy diet, and should form the majority of what we eat. The average Canadian diet significantly falls short of the recommended amount of fiber, consuming on average only 12 – 17 grams per day. Ways to increase dietary fiber in your diet are:
- Choose whole fruits and vegetables (with peels when possible) instead of juices.
- Choose whole grain bread, cereals and pasta in place of their overly processed, refined counterparts
- Replace white flour (or at least a portion of it) with whole wheat flour in baked goods.
- Replace white rice with brown rice.
- Replace meat with beans or other legumes in meals. Lentils are perfect for this.
Try experimenting with the above tips. Slowly modify recipes until you achieve a balance that is appetizing to your taste buds. If you are not accustomed to a high-fiber diet, increasing fiber intake SLOWLY will minimize any gas or bloating. Drink plenty of water with your fibrous meals so that you encourage the absorption of fiber and maximize the bulking properties of the fiber.