One of the nutrients that plants have is fiber. It is to plants what bones are to animals. The fiber is found within the plant´s cell walls and it´s what keeps them erect, strong and growing upwards, towards the sun. So, why is fiber so important for us humans? We´ve all heard that fiber is good for digestion, regularity and that it helps relieve constipation. But is that all that fiber can do for us? I remember that my mother used to take a Metamucil fiber supplement daily, a laxative made from the Psyllium plant and would even sprinkle some bran flakes on a piece of white toast, as an extra added fiber touch. Yet, despite that, she remained constipated throughout most of her adult years. Needless to say, fiber rich foods themselves were never an important part of her diet.
It´s important to understand that animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs don´t contain fiber, so we need to get it from plant foods and, if we don´t get enough fiber in our diet, we could eventually experience the consequences of fiber deficiency. Yes, we often hear about vitamin and mineral deficiency and that´s why we take supplements but…who tells us about fiber deficiency? According to Dr. Michael Greger in his book “How Not to Die”, “ONLY 3% OF AMERICANS MAY REACH THE RECOMMENDED MINIMUM DAILY INTAKE OF FIBER, MAKING IT ONE OF THE MOST WIDESPREAD NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES IN THE UNITED STATES.” I would even include people, wherever they live, who consume the Standard American Diet (SAD) of meat, dairy, eggs and refined and processed foods.
HERE´S THE LOWDOWN ON FIBER:
There are two types of dietary fiber—soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. It cuts cholesterol, adds to your feeling of fullness, and slows the release of sugars from food into the blood. These actions reduce your risk for health problems including heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Good sources of soluble fiber are oats, oat bran, oatmeal, apples, citrus fruits, strawberries, dried beans, barley, rye flour, potatoes, raw cabbage, and pasta.
On the other hand, insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is found in grain brans, fruit pulp, and vegetable peels and skins. It is the type of fiber most strongly linked to cancer protection and improved waste removal. Good sources of insoluble fiber are wheat bran, whole wheat products, cereals made from bran or shredded wheat, crunchy vegetables, barley, grains, whole wheat pasta, and rye flour.
BESIDES RELIEVING CONSTIPATION,RECENT STUDIES ASSOCIATE THE FOLLOWING WITH A DIET RICH IN FIBER:
-Promotes natural weight loss – Since fiber has zero calories and is made of indigestible plant roughage, it fills you up and curbs your appetite for extended periods.
-Because it is basically undigested, fiber absorbs nasty chemicals and contaminants that might be carcinogenic and could otherwise find their way into our intestines and cause cancer.
-Prevents hemorrhoids caused by excessive straining from constipation.
-Helps to prevent colorectal cancer – For years, studies have pointed to the fact that increased fiber intake decreases the risk of colorectal cancer. This protective effect may be due to fiber’s tendency to add bulk to your digestive system, shortening the amount of time that wastes travel through the colon.
-Helps to avoid diverticulosis by allowing the smooth passage of waste through the intestines.
-Reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes by slowing down the rate of glucose absorption and by lowering insulin levels.
-Lowers risk for arthritis by lowering inflammatory compounds in the blood.
-A high fiber diet is good for the lungs – Protects lung function, according to a study published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society. Those who consumed more than 17 grams of fiber per day from fruits, vegetables, and legumes had better lung health, compared with those who consumed the least.
-Fiber produces “good” gut bacteria and thus minimizes the need for probiotics.
Just as it is with vitamins and minerals, it is much healthier to choose fiber-rich foods over fiber supplements. For example, in order to get the full range of cancer-fighting phytochemicals (“phyto” means plant so phytochemicals are simply plant-compounds), we should eat whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains.
TIPS FOR INCREASING FIBER IN YOUR DIET
• Choose products that are minimally processed, like whole-wheat bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice and whole wheat pasta instead of refined pasta.
• Whenever possible, do not remove the fiber-rich peels and skins of fruits and vegetables. Just be sure to wash them thoroughly before eating.
• Plan each of your meals to include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
• To avoid intestinal discomfort when increasing fiber intake, it is best to increase gradually and drink plenty of water.
• Snack on baby carrots, apples, strawberries, oranges, and other fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.
• Top your breakfast cereals with dried fruits like raisins or dates, or fresh fruits like strawberries or peaches.
• Sprinkle garbanzo beans or peas on your salad.
• Add a handful of grated carrots to spaghetti sauce.
• Add milled flax seeds and chia seed to fresh fruit and vegetable salads.