Fun fact – fiber is only present in plant foods.
Everywhere you read about adding more fiber to your diet! Why is there so much fuss about fiber? Well, the main reason is preventing constipation and good bowel function; the other reason is prevention of numerous diseases.
Many of my clients suffer from constipation. Their solution? Medication. They don’t quite understand that food is the better solution. Unfortunately laxatives lead to a lazy bowel. In order to retrain the bowel to function properly, gradually increase fiber-containing foods. It’s as easy as that. The result is comfortable and regular bowel movements – nice topic.
Constipation is known as the “silent disease” as no one wants to talk about it. It’s embarrassing and everyone thinks they’re the only one with this problem. However, it is common and serious. One myth is that you need to have a bowel movement every day. This is not so. You can have a bowel movement every third day and not be constipated, if the bowel movement is soft and easy to dispel. Constipation means your bowel movement is hard and painful to eliminate.
In most cases, your bowel movements follow your eating pattern. On days that your food quantities are smaller, your bowel movements will be less in quantity and less frequent. After large meals, especially those high in fiber, your stools will be larger and your bowel movements more frequent. By increasing your fiber intake, you are taking the first step towards maintaining a healthy bowel.
There are other factors that influence regularity. Do you drink enough fluids, exercise frequently and make time to go to the restroom? If you delay a bowel movement, water is absorbed from the feces, making the feces difficult to move. Some clients are so busy that I have to remind them, “When you have to go, you have to go!”
Besides providing the joy of regular bowel movements, fiber has other benefits. High-fiber intake is linked to a lowered incidence of intestinal disorders, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, gallstones, diabetes and obesity. Isn’t taking preventive measures, like increasing the fiber in your diet, better than illness, uncomfortable treatment and expensive medication? Buy your fiber foods now!
WHERE TO FIND FIBER?
Fiber is present in grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables, not in animal products. Also in packaged foods - read the “Dietary Fiber” content on the Nutrition Facts panel. For example, with cereal, look for 4 grams of fiber per serving. Be sure to check the serving size. Some cereals have it listed as ½ cup, others 1- ½ cups.
I like to mix a weeks supply of four cereals plus dried cranberries and sunflower seeds in a container, for a different taste and texture every day. The cereals range from little fiber (1 g per 1/3 cup) to a very high source of fiber (11 g per 1/3 cup). Using mainly the latter, I’m ensured approximately 8 g fiber for a ½ cup of mixed cereal. By adding 1% milk and ½ banana, my breakfast consists of a hearty intake of fiber (in cereal, cranberries and seeds); calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin (in milk); potassium and a little vitamin C (in the banana); and a multi-vitamin supplement (in fortified cereals.)
Aim for 25 g of fiber per day for health and comfort reasons. On average, we consume less than 15 g of fiber per day. There is plenty of room for improvement. With any increase in your fiber intake, remember to increase your intake of fluids. Fiber absorbs fluid, which makes feces soft. Without fluids, the fiber can bulk up in the colon and cause an obstruction. Usually increased fiber intake increases thirst.
TYPES OF FIBER
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. The soluble fiber helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels, and insoluble fiber aids regularity. Sources are:
Soluble: oat bran, oatmeal, legumes, fruits, vegetables
Insoluble: wheat bran, cereals, whole grain bread, fruit vegetables
Add to your shopping list:
• High fiber cereals (containing at least 4 g fiber per serving)
• Whole-wheat breads and rolls
• Whole-wheat pasta
• Brown rice
• Legumes (canned or dried beans, peas and lentils)
• Plenty of vegetables (fresh, frozen and canned)
• Plenty of fruits and fruit juice with pulp
SIDE EFFECTS OF SUDDEN INCREASES IN FIBER
A client and her sixteen-year-old daughter stayed with a vegetarian. On the second day, the teenager had such terrible cramps in her abdomen; she had to be taken to the hospital. The teen’s worried mother suspected appendicitis. En route, the teenager started passing gas. When they arrived at the hospital, the bloating, pain, and discomfort subsided and she needed the washroom. Needless to say, she felt fine afterwards. Her problem? She had never had so much fiber in her diet in such a short time. Her bowel was not used to the overload, and had reacted accordingly.
Another concern, you will notice when you increase your fiber intake - an increase in gas production. Gas may cause discomfort and lead to complaints from family members and friends. I eat less of my favorite multi-bean stew before going to a movie. When alone, I take a chance with a larger portion. You will also need to balance your bean intake with social activities.
CHECKLIST: PREVENTING CONSTIPATION
- Minimum intake of 25 g fiber per day
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Exercise for at least half an hour every day
- Take time to go to the bathroom
AN EXAMPLE OF A HIGH FIBER DAY
Food: grams fiber
½ cup high-fiber cereal: 8
1-cup 1% milk: 0
½ banana: 1.5
1-cup pea soup: 5.5
1 whole-wheat roll: 4
2 slices turkey breast (2 oz): 0
1 Tbsp light mayonnaise: 0
Lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad: 2
1 tsp extra light olive oil: 0
1 apple with skin: 3.5
1 sesame seed bagel: 3
1 Tbsp light cream cheese: 0
4 oz salmon: 0
½ cup brown rice: 2.5
2 tbsp light sour cream: 0
½ cup carrots: 2.5
½ cup broccoli: 2
1-cup strawberries: 4
1 low fat yogurt: 0
Total: 38.5 g fiber for the day
Do you see how easy it is to get enough fiber in your day? Even if you eliminate the pea soup, a vegetable and a fruit, you can still consume enough fiber in one day. A bonus is these foods contain numerous other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are important in the prevention of many diseases.
Where you get into trouble is when you are rushed for time. You skip breakfast and pick up a bran muffin (2.5 g fiber) and coffee on the way to work. At lunch you grab an egg sandwich (2 g fiber). In the afternoon, it’s four chocolate chip cookies (1 g fiber) that are always in the office kitchen. On the way home you buy a hamburger (2 g fiber) and fries (1 g fiber). You might as well include a chocolate (0 g fiber); after all, you’ve had a hard day - a total of 8.5 g fiber. With the national average intake of 11 g fiber per day, your day is really looking bad.
By “preaching” fiber-rich foods, I’m not trying to force tasteless cardboard chips on you. I want you to eat delicious fruit, the crispiest vegetables, the freshest breads and the crunchiest cereals. In particular, always have low fat, high fiber, tasty foods in your home and office, and ready to eat.
The immediate benefit of increased fiber intake is regular bowel movements. The long-term benefits include lower cholesterol levels, better diabetes control and perhaps a lower body weight. Eat more fiber and Feel Fantastic!