Fiber and health

Add fiber-rich foods to your daily diet

Dear Dr. Mo: I am looking to improve my diet and fiber comes highly recommended as something to eat daily. What is it and where to get it from? How much is enough?

Dear reader: The reason fiber is highly recommended as a part of any healthy diet is simple – it is really good for you.

Previously, it was thought that fiber was a significant factor in preventing colon cancer but as it turns out, most of the evidence show that fiber has no such effect in prevention of this disease.

Still, fiber has many other good effects, for which it is considered a must-have in our everyday diets.

So, what does fiber do for us?

Fiber helps prevent heart disease, obesity, diabetes (by improving insulin resistance), constipation and diverticulitis (an intestinal problem). It helps to regulate cholesterol levels by slightly reducing the “bad” LDL cholesterol. And last, but certainly not the least of good effects is the increase of the bulk of foods making us feel fuller for longer – that’s another way fiber helps us in avoiding overeating and being overweight.

What is fiber and where to get it from?

Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate form found in plant foods.There are two types of fiber: Soluble and Insoluble

Soluble fiber absorbs water as it passes through our digestive system. As it fills with water it forms a gel which slows down digestion and causes the feeling of fullness, which lasts longer and could help with weight loss as a consequence. Slower digestion also slows down absorption of glucose and this helps to control diabetes and it also decreases the levels of LDL (the “bad” fat) in the blood helping in prevention of heart disease.

Some good sources of soluble fiber include seeds (like Chia seeds, which have both soluble and insoluble fiber), nuts, oat cereals, legumes (lentils, beans – i.e. red kidney beans and peas – i.e. split peas), fruit pectin (found in citrus fruits, pears, apples, apricots and peaches), and some vegetables, such as onions and carrots.

Insoluble fiber passes through the digestive system virtually unaffected. It’s vital for intestinal health because it adds bulk to foods and draws water to the stool preventing its dryness and hardness. This assists its passage through the large intestine and prevents constipation.

Some good sources of insoluble fiber include whole-grain cereals, whole-wheat bread and corn bran, nuts, popcorn, seeds, cabbage, broccoli, root vegetables, green leafy vegetables, onions, and fruit and vegetable skins (do not peel your fruits).

Food considered as a good source has about 3 grams of fiber in it and a very rich source if it contains about 5 grams. Apples for instance have 4 grams.

Our average diet has around 15 grams and it falls short of a recommended daily intake, which should be between 20 and 40 grams.

So, there’s room for improvement. All the evidence suggests we should aim for a diet filled with fiber-rich foods and now that you know why this is, start your planning today.

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo