“Eat your muffin, it’s full of bran—it will make you move.” I’m not sure which was more bothersome at 14, eating the dry, flavorless muffin being presented to me or having my favorite grandmother get into a goofy discussion on bowel movements with me. Being around lots of elders, I was accustomed to what would come next if I didn’t eat the muffin. I could live without another lecture. Thankfully, I found ways to get the benefits of fiber in the diet without the torture of these bland foods.
As a practitioner of Amma Therapy and Holistic Health, I am continually amazed at how simple dietary shifts can have the most profound effects on client's conditions–whether young or old. Fiber is a primary recommendation as diseases like diabetes, IBS, Crohn's and obesity soar.
What is fiber?
Simply put, fiber is nature’s laxative and is the substance matter of plants that isn’t broken down by the body during digestion. It comes from the leaves, stems, seeds and secretions of plants.
What health benefits does fiber offer?
Although fiber doesn’t provide the body with energy, it is an essential nutrient for digestion and overall health. It adds bulk to the stools, absorbs excess water and softens the stools to make elimination of waste and toxins easier. It also:
- Protects your intestines and keeps them working comfortably to help move toxins and fecal matter out of the system
- Prevents constipation and hemorrhoids
- Absorbs excess moisture from the stools, reducing diarrhea
- Reduces the risk of cancers, especially colon cancer
- Reduces the risk and impact of diabetes by slowing glucose absorption to help regulate blood sugar
- Treats and prevents bowel disorders including: IBS, Crohn’s disease & diverticulitis
- Creates bulk in diet making you feel fuller, therefore aiding in weightloss
- Manages and lowers blood cholesterol levels
Where do you find fiber?
In a nutshell, fiber is found in whole, vegetable foods this includes: nuts, seeds, lentils, legumes, whole grains (with the bran), vegetables and fruits. If you’ve ever made jelly you have likely worked with pectin. Pectin is a soluable fiber found in the peel of fruits including apples and pears and gives jelly its texture. Most of the fiber in fruits and vegetable is found in the skins—so don’t peel your fruits! There are two forms of fiber or roughage:
Soluable fibers mostly come from plant cell walls like apple and pear pectins (yep, the same stuff that gives jelly its texture), gums, mucilages and algals. They dissolve in water in the intestinal tract. This process helps to delay transit time through the GI tract, regulates your blood sugar by slowing absorption of glucose and lowers cholesterol.
Insoluable fiber, like bran, is “scratchy” plant matter that adds bulk to increases fecal weight to produce bowel movements, slows starch and glucose absorption.
How much fiber do you need a day?
The average American eats about 10-13 grams of fiber a day, that's almost 1/2 of the daily recommendation—yikes!
Today’s Standard American Diet (SAD) is heavy on refined and processed foods and full of meat products—foods that are nutrient dead and often void of fiber.
The current adequate intake (AI) is
Children, 4-8 years of age 25 grams/day
Girls, 9-13 years of age 26 grams/day
Boys, 9-13 years of age 31 grams/day
Adults 38-40 grams/day
Adults over 50 22 grams/day
Having more than 50 grams a day of fiber is not recommended.
How to get more fiber into your diet
- Try to eat 5-7 servings of vegetables and 1-3 servings of whole grains and daily to meet your body’s fiber needs.
- Gradually increase your intake—about 5 grams a day. If you have no idea of how much fiber you usually eat, track your diet for a week. There are many online sites like Calorie Counter where you can do this. If you add too much too fast it can cause gas and bloating.
- Eat seaweed! Seaweed has a wonderfully high fiber content, averaging about 32-56% of its it dry matter.
- Try your next baking project with coconut flour—it’s gluten free and marvelously high in fiber.
- Toss Chia seeds into a smoothy or protein shake. Use it to thicken gravy or sprinkle it over your salad just before you eat it.
- Eat more whole grains like teff, amaranth, quinoa and millet. Rices and grains that have been hulled have much of their bran removed.
- Leave on the skin! Eat fruits (apples, pears, etc) and vegetables (cucumber, potatoes, etc) with their skins intact
- Add lentils and legumes into your diet. If you do not frequently eat them, add them slowly.
- Add in dips like hummus or white bean dips into your diet.
- Add in an organic bran cereal a few times a week.
- Water please! Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses per day, to help move the fiber through your system.
- Spice it up! Dried herbs and spices are packed with fiber. 1 T of cinnamon boasts 4.2 grams of fiber; rosemary, savory and other spices aren't far behind.