March 26, 2012

Get Fit with Fiber

Shannon Slowey
Dietetic Intern at
Bay Pines VA Health Care System

What is fiber? The Food and Nutrition Board assembled a panel that came up with the following definitions:
  • Dietary fiber is made up of non-digestible carbohydrates and lignin that are basic and whole in plants. This includes plant non-starch polysaccharides (for example, cellulose, pectin, gums, hemicellulose, and fibers contained in oat and wheat bran), oligosaccharides, lignin, and some resistant starch.

  • Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. Sources of soluble fiber are oats, legumes (beans, peas, and soybeans), apples, bananas, berries, barely, some vegetables, and psylluim.

  • Insoluble fiber increases the movement of material through your digestive tract and increases your stool bulk. Sources of insoluble fiber are whole wheat foods, bran, nuts, seeds, and the skin of some fruits and vegetables.

As a general rule, a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole-grain products is recommended. As portrayed in the USDA MyPlate, this should include 2 to 3 servings of fruit, 3 to 4 servings of vegetables, and 6 or more servings of grains each day.

Fiber for weight control
There is some evidence that "bulking up" could lead to slimming down. In a recent study of more than 1700 overweight and obese men and women, those with the highest fiber intake had the greatest weight loss over 24 months. A reason that fiber may have an impact on body weight is its ability to slow the movement of food through the intestines. The gel-like substance that soluble fibers form when they dissolve in water causes things to swell and move slower in the intestines. This increase in time that foods stay in the intestines has been shown to reduce hunger feelings and overall food intake.

Fiber for controlling diabetes
If you have diabetes, a high-fiber diet may be just what the doctor ordered to get your blood sugars under control. The best time to address type 2 diabetes is before it develops. Research has shown that high-fiber diets can help prevent this form of diabetes. A German clinical trial reported that eating fiber-enriched bread for only three days improved insulin sensitivity in overweight and obese women by 8%. If you have diabetes, the good news is that increasing fiber in the diet now can also prevent long-term problems and complications.

Foods with fiber
Foods that have fiber can help you control your weight, lower blood cholesterol levels and help control blood sugar levels. Increase the amount of the following foods to increase your daily intake of fiber:
  • Beans

  • Vegetables

  • Fruit (keep the skin on)

  • Nuts

  • Seeds

Snack with Success
Sneak fiber into your breakfast with these fun fiber food ideas:
  • 1 cup of a high fiber cereal (Bran flakes, fiber plus cereals)

  • ½ cup of oatmeal with ½ cup of pumpkin puree Add a tsp of brown sugar and cinnamon for flavor.

  • Add ¼ cup of mixed nuts to your low fat yogurt.

For information on fiber and the fiber content of various foods, check out the publications below.

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