But regular fiber consumption does more than improve digestive health. Dietary fiber can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and stroke, which affect nearly 15 percent of adults in Oregon. It can even help prevent various types of cancer—specifically, colon cancer, which is one of the easiest cancers to prevent through regular screenings and lifestyle changes, like eating well and quitting smoking.
The health benefits of fiber can’t be overstated.
What is dietary fiber?
Fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, is an indigestible substance derived from plants. It can be found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains and berries, among other foods.
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and both are good for digestive health and overall wellness and chronic disease prevention. Adventist Health wants Oregonians to focus on consuming more of these types of fiber.
- Soluble Fiber attracts water and forms a gel during digestion that provides health benefits. Soluble fiber can typically be found in beans, lentils, oatmeal, berries, apples, Brussels sprouts, bananas and other fruit and vegetables. Consuming foods high in soluble fiber can help you feel full longer by slowing digestion, and lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels, which helps prevent heart disease and diabetes.
- Insoluble Fiber adds bulk to stool and helps food pass more efficiently through the stomach and intestines. Found in whole grains, barley, brown rice, tomatoes, carrots, leafy greens, nuts and seeds. This type of fiber promotes movement of material through the colon to prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber is often bulkier, which helps people stay fuller, longer, preventing unwanted weight gain that can contribute to chronic diseases.
Daily dose of fiber
Dietitians and medical care providers at Adventist Health recommend people eat 25-38 grams of fiber per day, a number that fluctuates based on age and gender. People who incorporate more fiber-rich foods into their daily meals will stay healthier. These types of foods typically offer the consumer a variety of beneficial vitamins and nutrients that also improve health.
Yet in the U.S., the average person only consumes 15 grams of fiber per day, far below the recommended amount.
“Eating a plant-focused diet that incorporates fiber-rich beans, lentils and whole grains will keep people healthy and help prevent chronic diseases,” says Irene Franklin, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition services at Adventist Health in Portland. “Eating nutritious foods provides the body with fiber, vitamins and nutrients will keep people healthy and feeling well over the long run.”
Franklin and health experts at Adventist Health Portland recommend eating a minimum of nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
She also recommends that if you plan to boost your fiber consumption, to do so slowly over the course of a few weeks to prevent unwanted gas or bloating that can cause discomfort (for you and for others).
Fruits, vegetables and other sources of dietary fiber
There are hundreds of types of fruit, from grocery store apples to the ultra-rare rambutan (a tropical Southeast Asian fruit) Fruit is loaded with fiber, antioxidants, potassium and other beneficial vitamins and nutrients. Eating more whole fruits and less junk food can boost your daily dose of fiber and help prevent chronic health conditions.
Peaches can help lower LDL cholesterol, the bad type of cholesterol that builds up in the arteries and can lead to cardiovascular disease. There are about 2 grams of fiber in a medium-sized peach. Pears are also a great source. One medium-sized pear has 6 grams of fiber.
Tomatoes are a year-round fruit rich in fiber, lycopene and other antioxidants that support bone health. Vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and fiber aid in combatting heart disease and reducing inflammation. One medium tomato has about 1.5 grams of dietary fiber.
Avocados are packed with fiber at more than 10 grams per cup. And since it’s football season, enjoy plenty of guacamole on Sundays to help you reach your daily fiber goal.
Adding blueberries, raspberries or strawberries to your morning cereal, oatmeal or yogurt will boost your fiber for the day. Berries are rich with soluble fiber. In fact, there are 8 grams of fiber in one serving (one cup) of raspberries.
Eating berries every day can help improve digestion, keep blood pressure low, prevent plaque build-up in the arteries and even reduce your risk for heart attack. The next time you reach for a breakfast pastry or an after-dinner treat, try swapping it out for a handful of berries.
We’ve all struggled at one point or another to eat enough vegetables, but vegetables are a valuable source of fiber and healthy vitamins that keep us feeling well.
One cup of broccoli has 6 grams of fiber. And it’s not just fiber—broccoli is loaded with other vitamins and nutrients that have health benefits, from helping prevent cancer to improving joint health.
There are 7 grams of fiber in a medium artichoke. That’s approximately one third of your fiber for one day. Artichokes can be hard to find, especially out of season. Try purchasing canned artichoke hearts. They make for a great topping on a salad or a pizza.
Switch to whole grains and cut out processed foods packed with refined sugars. Eating too much white bread, rice and pasta, which are loaded with sugars and carbohydrates, can lead to unhealthy weight gain.
Extra pounds around the midsection can cause heart disease and diabetes. Added weight also contributes to arthritis in the hips and knees because it puts more stress on your joints. Instead of processed foods for breakfast, try eating whole grain cereals or oatmeal.
One half cup dry serving of oatmeal provides 4-6 grams of dietary fiber. Use caution when a product says made with whole grains on the front, be sure to check the ingredient list to find the whole grain “whole wheat, whole grain [name of grain], wheat berries, brown rice, or oats” or for example to ensure the item contains whole grains. Look for products with an easily identifiable whole grain in the first 2-3 ingredients.
Beans and Legumes
These gaseous little buggers are a great source of dietary fiber and help clean out the colon and keep your stomach and gut healthy.
Beans and lentils steal the show for fiber. A one cup serving of black beans has 15 grams of fiber, kidney beans have 13 grams per cup. Lentils are also a good source— a one cup serving has 18 grams of fiber. Split peas, chickpeas and the rest of the group are also fibrous little gems.
One cup of peas contains 8 grams of fiber. These green little guys are also a good source of protein (8 grams), vitamin K, vitamin C and potassium. Try adding green peas to brown rice or to a vegetable stir fry—or make a hearty split pea soup this fall.
This small seed from South America has amazing health benefits. Quinoa contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, and one half cup serving accounts for 4 grams of your recommended daily intake. For a fiber-rich lunch or dinner, try this delicious cranberry and kale quinoa salad topped with candied pecans. Kale, quinoa, cranberries, pecans and avocado combine for a gorgeous and tasty meal that will satisfy your hunger and keep your tummy feeling well. Check out these other tips for gut health.
If you struggle to consume enough fiber every day, there are other options to ensure you’re getting the dietary fiber you need for digestive health. Try drinking a fiber-rich beverage, including prune juice, tomato juice, Benefiber® or Metamucil®. These are good options for people who are feeling constipated or for the aging or senior population. Use caution, there is no evidence that fiber supplements have the other health benefits of fiber that you get from food.
Other health benefits of fiber-rich foods
Foods rich in fiber tend to also be a good source for vitamins, nutrients and minerals that can help prevent other chronic conditions and keep the body healthy.
Fiber can play a role in reaching and maintain a healthy weight, by slowing down intake (chewing) and digesting, high fiber foods help you to feel “full” sooner. “The best way to ensure you will continue to eat a high-fiber diet is to select foods you genuinely enjoy,” adds Franklin.
Filling up on fiber rich foods adds the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients these dietary choices contain. A plant-based diet rich in fiber will keep you and your family healthy.
Top Foods for Soluble Fiber
- Brussels sprouts
Top Foods for Insoluble Fiber
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole Grains
- Leafy Greens
Need help for your tummy troubles? Call our GI team at 503-255-3054.
Author: LivingWell PDX Blog
Adventist Health is committed to creating a healthier Portland community.