People are confused about fiber. Fiber provides no nutrition, yet diets lacking in it are not nutritious, and most people don’t get enough.

Through processing, foods that are naturally high in fiber – wheat and rice, for instance – lose much of what made them that way. Most of the cereals and breads stocking grocery shelves are made from refined grains and flour. As such, these products provide minimal nutritional benefit and are little more than filler and empty calories.

What Is Fiber?

Fiber, or roughage, is the indigestible plant matter found in fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans) and grains. What makes this material important is that the body does not break it down as it does food’s other components: fat, protein and carbohydrates. Both soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble fiber should be consumed daily.

Tips For Fitting In Fiber

  • Jump-start your day. For breakfast, choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal — look for five or more grams of fiber per serving – or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
  • Switch to whole grains. Look for breads that list whole wheat, whole-wheat flour or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label and have at least two grams of dietary fiber per serving. Experiment with brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta and bulgur.
  • Bulk up your baking. Substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour. Add crushed bran cereal or unprocessed wheat bran to muffins, cakes and cookies.
  • Mix it up. Add pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces.
  • Get a leg up with legumes. Add beans, peas and lentils to salads and canned soups.
  • Implement Meatless Mondays. Set aside one day of the week for eating vegetarian.
  • Eat fruit at every meal. Apples, bananas, oranges, pears and berries are good sources of fiber.
  • Make snacks count. Fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables and whole-grain crackers contain fiber. A handful of nuts is a healthy, high-fiber snack.
  • Soluble fiber: When consumed, this type of fiber forms a gel-like material that assists with lowering lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol and reducing glucose (blood sugar levels), which can help in the prevention of diabetes. Sources of soluble fiber include oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.
  • Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber is an aid for constipation as it promotes movement of material through the digestive system and increases and softens waste or stool bulk. Bowel movements are more regular, which helps the body rid itself of toxins. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts and many vegetables are good sources of insoluble fiber.

Soluble or insoluble, foods that are high in fiber require longer chewing times. This helps maintain healthy weight as the body has time to register that hunger needs are being addressed, which makes overeating less likely. Furthermore, high-in-fiber foods are filling. They are nutrient-dense – low in calories and high in volume, vitamins, minerals – as opposed to energy dense – low in volume and high in calories, sugar, salt and fats. People who eat more nutrient-dense food tend to eat less and eat healthier at mealtime. With hunger satisfied longer, these same people tend not to snack as much and put on fewer excess pounds.

How Much Fiber Do You Need?

Recommended daily fiber consumption is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. This can be accomplished with daily consumption of five or more cups of fruits and vegetables along with four to six servings of whole grain (unrefined) breads and cereals. In general, one cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 100 percent vegetable juice, or two cups of raw leafy greens equals one serving from the vegetable group. One piece of fruit or one small glass of 100 percent fruit juice or a half cup of dried fruit equals one serving from the fruit group.

Fiber supplements can help add bulk to diet, but do not provide the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that come with consuming high-fiber foods. Check with your health care provider before turning to fiber supplements.

Fiber fuels digestion and fixes hunger pangs. Incorporate fiber in your daily diet and enjoy the results.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]