Dietary Fiber and Healthy Eating
When it comes to eating healthy and enjoying a healthier lifestyle, it is hard to overstate the importance of fiber in the diet. Even though fiber is most associated with grains, rice and breads, it is important to remember that fruits and vegetables also contain significant amounts of dietary fiber. In fact, the need for fiber is just one more reason to eat your fruits and vegetables every day.
In order to understand why dietary fiber is so important, it is a good idea to know what fiber is and what role it plays in digestion. Simply put, dietary fiber is the portion of food that the human body cannot digest. Fiber is found in foods of plant origin only; there is no fiber in meat and dairy products. Fiber plays an important role in the digestion of food, and in the elimination of waste products as they travel through the body.
Good sources of dietary fiber include grains, cereals, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. As we said before, meats and dairy products do not contain any dietary fiber, so it is important to eat some plant based foods ever day to get the fiber you need.
Soluble vs. insoluble
Not all fiber is the same, and fiber comes in two forms - soluble and insoluble. All plant materials contain both types of fiber, but some sources contain more of one than the other. Eating a variety of foods rich in fiber every day will ensure you get adequate levels of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber is important in keeping people regular, and it has shown promise as well in the prevention of some types of colon and rectal cancers. Insoluble fiber is mainly found in wheat brain, some types of vegetables and in whole grain products. Some vegetables rich in insoluble fiber include carrots, peas and broccoli. The skins of fruits are also rich in insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber, on the other hand, has shown promise in reducing levels of cholesterol in the blood, and at reducing the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream. Soluble fiber is abundant in dried peas, lentils, beans, barley, oat bran, and in many fruits and vegetables.
How much fiber is enough
Many people are unsure just how much dietary fiber they need every day, but most dietitians recommend that women consume between 21 and 25 grams of dietary fiber per day. For men, the recommendation is 30 to 38 grams of fiber each day.
Of course, that is easier said that done, and it is important to know which foods are high in fiber in order to boost your daily fiber consumption. In the case of packaged foods like breads and crackers, the fiber content will be listed as part of the nutritional label. In the case of fruits and vegetables, there are charts which show the fiber content of an average size piece. Some grocery stores post this information, and it is also widely available on the internet.
When increasing dietary fiber, it is best to make the increase gradual. A sudden jump in dietary fiber can lead to bloating, gas and abdominal discomfort. In addition, it is important to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, in order for fiber to have the best effect. When choosing breads and cereals, it is best to go with healthier whole grains. In general, the less processing, the healthier the foods.
Eating the skins of fruits and vegetables is a great way to increase dietary fiber. Many people like to make fruit shakes and smoothies that use the skins of their favorite fruits. This makes a delicious and nutritious way to increase fiber consumption. In addition, keeping a variety of fiber rich foods, such as apples, nuts, seeds and bran muffins, around for snacks is a great idea.
And finally, eating a wide variety of foods will ensure that you get plenty of fiber, as well as the vitamins, minerals, and trace elements that make a balanced diet so important.
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