The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 16, 2013

Increase fiber intake for digestive health, weight management benefits

Q: Can you help explain fiber to me? I know that it is good for me, so how can I get enough?

A: There is a lot of talk about fiber — that we should eat more of it and that is has many health benefits, but what exactly is all this hype about? Unfortunately, the average person eats half of the daily recommended amount of fiber. A good rule of thumb is to eat 14 grams per 1,000 kilocalories consumed. Therefore, a woman should eat about 28 grams and a male should eat about 38 grams. If you don’t eat much fiber in your diet, it is important to start incorporating it gradually because it may cause you intestinal discomfort but don’t worry — your body will adjust.

Fiber is only found in plant foods and can’t be digested by our bodies (this is a good thing!). There are two types: soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which our body needs for maximum health benefits.

Soluble fiber: This type of fiber says it in the name — it’s soluble, meaning it dissolves in water. It has been shown that soluble fiber helps decrease blood cholesterol, slows stomach emptying (to keep us fuller longer) and controls blood sugar levels in diabetics. Great food sources of this fiber include whole grains (like oatmeal), fruits and seeds.

Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber does not dissolve in water and is found in the wall of the plant. It is known to help with weight management and constipation. Insoluble fiber is what adds bulk to our stools. Food sources of this fiber include brown rice, legumes and wheat bran.

Fiber can improve bowel health. It can decrease the chance of constipation by increasing the size and weight of your stool, making it easier to pass. On the other hand, if you have diarrhea, fiber will add bulk to the stool to solidify it. Weight management is yet another advantage; high fiber foods generally take longer to chew so you are more likely to think about what you are eating and know when you are full. Because high fiber foods are not broken down by our body, they help to keep us satisfied for a longer period of time.

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