The Role of Fiber in Your Diet

Delicious, ripe fruits and berries. Crisp, crunchy, colorful vegetables. Flavorful grains. Savory nuts. Even a mouthwatering bowl of popcorn. These are among the many tempting foods that offer you abundant fiber, that all-important component of a healthy diet.

Experts have known for a long time that fiber has significant benefits; however, there has yet to be an official guideline as to how much fiber we should aim for in our daily diets. But not the Food and Drug Board has issued preliminary recommended levels for daily fiber intake. Some evidence suggests that fiber may help to promote weight control by controlling the appetite because fiber makes you feel satisfied longer. A proven fact: Fiber helps food and waste move through the digestive system, plus, some forms of fiber can help to carry excess cholesterol out of your digestive system so it is eliminated rather than absorbed in the blood. Other fibers help to decrease the rate at which blood glucose at moderate levels.

The recommended daily Adequate Intake (AI) levels suggested for adults over 50 are 30 grams for men and 21 grams for women. For adults under 50, the recommended AI is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. By these guidelines, less that 5-percent of adults in the United States eat enough fiber. In one recent government study, the average daily intake of dietary fiber for all individuals was 15.2 grams, well below recommended levels.

New Definitions for Fiber To help you understand the different types of fiber and their benefits, the Food and Nutrition Board has proposed special terms for fiber in food. The Board defines total fiber as the combination of dietary fiber and functional fiber.

Dietary fiber is the non-digestible component of carbohydrates naturally found in plant food. This fiber carries food through the digestive system and can help give you the feeling of fullness.

Functional fibers are also non-digestible fibers that act like dietary fiber, but can come from either natural or synthetic sources and are usually added to food. One example of a natural source of functional fiber is pectin, used in jams and jellies and extracted from citrus peel. An example of a synthetic fiber that can be added to food products is fructooligosaccharides (FOS).

Functional fibers have many health benefits. Some, like those found in oatmeal, pectin and gums, delay the passage of food from the stomach into the small intestine. This results in increased feelings of fullness and may help promote weight control. In addition, these fibers can reduce the rise in blood glucose levels after eating. They can also combine with cholesterol and dietary fat in the digestive tract to help carry these substances out of the body, which can lower blood cholesterol levels.

It is fairly simple to bring your fiber intake up to where it should be. Increase your fiber intake gradually over several weeks so your body has time to adapt to the change. And, while you increase your fiber intake, you should drink enough fluids. For individuals without a fluid restriction, six to eight 8-fluid ounce glasses of non-caffeinated beverages can complement your daily fiber intake.

  • Tasty Ways to Put More Fiber in Your Diet
  • Wheat or bran cereals instead of processed, sugary cereals
  • Dried fruit mixes (raisins, apricots) instead of candy or sugary snacks
  • 100-percent whole wheat bread instead of white bread
  • Brown rice instead of instant or polished rice
  • Fresh fruit instead of fruit juices
  • Popcorn and nuts instead of potato chips and pretzels
  • Non-peeled fruits instead of peeled fruits

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