We hear a lot about it, we are encouraged to increase it, but most Americans get nowhere near enough…we’re talking about fiber. Fiber has been shown to have beneficial effects on our gastrointestinal system, as well as, reducing risk of certain diseases.
The importance of fiber was first highly promoted by a physician named Dr. Denis Burkitt in the 1970’s. The “Fiber Man” and his group spent a lot of time studying the natives of Africa and realized two things. First, they didn’t suffer from many of the Western gastrointestinal conditions such as constipation, diarrhea, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids and colon cancer. Second, they consumed a lot of fiber and ate hardly any refined carbohydrates. This is obviously exactly opposite of what we do in the United States. What was even more interesting is if you took these healthy natives and fed them the Standard American Diet (SAD) devoid of adequate fiber and high in refined carbs they developed all the typical gastrointestinal diseases that are so prevalent.
The Food and Nutrition Board has identified and defined three terms: dietary fiber, functional fiber and total fiber.
Dietary fiber consists of nondigestible carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants. This includes plant nonstarch polysaccharides (for example, cellulose, pectin, gums, hemicellulose, and fibers contained in oat and wheat bran), oligosaccharides, lignin, and some resistant starch.
Functional fiber consists of isolated, nondigestible carbohydrates that have beneficial physiological effects in humans. This includes nondigestible plant (for example, resistant starch, pectin, and gums), chitin, chitosan, or commercially produced (for example, resistant starch, polydextrose, inulin, and indigestible dextrins) carbohydrates.
Total fiber is the sum of dietary fiber and functional fiber. It’s not important to differentiate between which forms of each of these fibers you are getting in your diet. Your total fiber is what matters. You’ve also heard of soluble and insoluble fiber. The point is that fiber is important for daily consumption and has been shown to help in weight loss, control diabetes, prevent heart disease, prevent gastrointestinal disease, and more.
So where’s the big issue? American consumption is not even half of the adequate intake of total fiber as established by the Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. The recommended guidelines for men are 38 grams/day and for women 25 grams/day.
So should you increase your fiber intake? Definitely. Should you start by jumping into 30 grams right now? Definitely not. Start slowly with increasing your fiber to prevent unwanted gas, bloating and altered bowels. Also make sure that you drink plenty of water. At least half your weight in ounces of water should be consumed each day. (We will do a blog post on this aspect of the Magnificent Seven later on). Spread your fiber intake throughout the day. You don’t need to consume it all at one time.
Here are some tips for increasing daily fiber intake:
- Add flaxseeds, seeds, or nuts to your salad, soup, cereal, or yogurt.
- Keep frozen blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries in your freezer to add to cereal, dessert, shakes, or yogurt.
- Have cut-up veggies in small baggies available to take with you. Use them with a meal or as a snack.
- Beans and peas go with everything; put them in your salad, soup, or have them with your meals or snacks.
- Have veggies with your meals whenever possible. Anything that you add will count. The more variety, the more we eat, so have as many different veggies at one meal as you can.
- Use fruit with, or in between, your meals. Set a minimum number of servings to have each day and be sure to reach it. Always go for the fruit with the skin and/or seeds for the fiber.
- Use a fiber supplement such as Herbulk or Liquid Fiber to increase your daily intake.