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Baltimore Sun

How to make fiber work for you

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center will provide a post on nutrition topics. Have questions or ideas for future topics? Email healthsci@baltsun.com. This week, Deb Schulze (pictured) RD, LDN, weighs in on fiber.    

Fiber, a complex carbohydrate also called roughage, is part of the plant matrix that your body can’t digest or absorb. Therefore, it passes relatively intact through your digestive system and out of your body. While its journey seems relatively uneventful, it actually provides several important benefits to overall health.
What Can It Do For You?
Digestion. Adequate fiber intake helps in the treatment of constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome by promoting  digestion, elimination and absorption of nutrients.
Weight Loss.  It helps you feel fuller, which may curb appetite and promoting weight loss.
Heart Health. Soluble fiber can lower cholesterol, blood pressure and your risk of coronary heart disease.
Blood sugar. Soluble fiber can delay the absorption of sugar, which helps improve glucose control for people with diabetes. Fiber intake has also been associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.   
Cancer prevention. Research continues on the role of increased fiber and colorectal cancer prevention.
Not All  Fiber is Created Equal
Fiber is classified into two categories: soluble fiber which dissolves in water and insoluble fiber which does not.
Soluble fiber forms a gel like material and can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. It can be found in items such as oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, barley, carrots and psyllium.
Insoluble fiber assists in the movement of material through your digestive tract and thereby increasing stool bulk. This can be a benefit to those who experience irregular stools or constipation. Many good sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, nuts, whole-wheat flour and many vegetables.
How Much Do You Need?
The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine along with The American Dietetic Association recommend:
Age 50 and younger
Women: 25 grams
Men: 38 grams
Age 51 and older
Women: 21 grams
Men: 30 grams

How Can You Get Enough Fiber?

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Eat at least 2 cups of fruits and 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day.

Learn to Read Labels.

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Packages may claim the product is “rich in “, “high in” or an “excellent source of fiber” if  the product provides 5 grams of fiber per serving. Another food label may clam it is “a good source” of fiber if it contains 10% of your daily value or about 2.5 grams. Read carefully.

Snack on fruits and vegetables.

Some come in their own wrapper and are easy to eat. When shopping purchase ready-to-eat items such as baby carrots, pre-sliced and unpeeled apples, etc.

Try to eat the fruit and limit the juice.

Whole foods have more fiber than juices.

Go nuts.

Include seeds, nuts, flax seeds, sesame seeds to soups cereals, salads or yogurt.

Substitute regular pastas, white breads and white rice with whole grain and less processed options. Choose cereals with approximately 2-4 grams of fiber per serving. Use them as dry snacks or toppings for yogurt or desserts. Consider oatmeal, bran or multiple grain cereals, cooked or dry.

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Fresh or frozen fruits are great alone or when added to cereals, desserts, smoothies and yogurt.

Scoop or dip veggies or whole-grain crackers in hummus, artichoke or spinach dip.

Bring on the beans and legumes.

Pinto and black beans have about 15 grams of fiber per cup. Try them in soups, stews, and salads.

Helpful Hints

Increase slowly to prevent gas and bloating. Try not to eat more fiber than your body can comfortably handle. Figure out how much fiber you are consuming and increase in small increments throughout the day until you reach your daily goal.

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Drink more fluids when increasing the fiber in your diet. Try to drink approximately 8 glasses of low calorie beverages per day which will help your body process the fiber.


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