By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
You may only think about your fiber intake when you are concerned about bowel regularity. Here are four reasons why fiber is even more important for heart health.
- It helps keep blood sugar in a healthy range. This is important for everyone, but even more so for those who are overweight or at risk for diabetes and heart disease.
- It helps support normal, healthy blood pressure.
- It’s a highly effective weight-management tool. Dozens of studies have linked higher fiber intake with weight control. Fiber promotes satiety (feeling of fullness), reducing hunger and helping to reduce food intake.
- Virtually every population study ever done shows a strong association between high-fiber diets and lower risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Now that you know you need it, how much do you need and where should you get it?
There are two basic types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both are important to your health. The Institute of Medicine recommends between 25 and 38 grams a day but the average American gets less than a third of that. You can calculate how much fiber you are getting by referring to this chart from the Institute of Medicine.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, adding volume to the stomach contents and attenuates blood glucose levels, while also making it easier for stools to pass. Soluble fiber sources include: apples, avocados, bananas, plums, cereal grains (oats, barley, kamut, buckwheat), beans, and seeds such as chia and flaxseed.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, but forms a soft pulp as it moves through the colon, aiding colon contractions and adding to fecal bulk. This is the kind of fiber which really helps with regularity. It’s found in wheat bran, many vegetables, and some fruits such as apples, grape skins, berries, pineapple and oranges.
Many – but not all – foods have a mix of the two kinds. Which is good, because you need both.
Some types of dietary fiber have an additional benefit: They act as prebiotics, which are basically food for the beneficial probiotics in your gut. Food sources of prebiotics include inulin (chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke), legumes and unrefined wheat and barley. Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum, available in supplement form, is also a great soluble fiber and prebiotic.
Should you take a fiber supplement?
If you are not getting enough fiber in your diet, you may want to boost your intake through supplements. Here are a few things to consider:
- Fiber powders provide more fiber per serving and match efficacious doses compared to capsules. They are also more cost effective
- Look for a fiber that mixes well with water and preferably “invisibly” into many of your other favorite foods and beverages without others knowing it’s there.
- Take fiber supplements with plenty of water. That helps improve tolerability and deliver the fiber to the colon, where it works best.
- My top fiber supplement pick is Sunfiber. It’s made from partially hydrolyzed guar gum and has a slow fermentation process, which leads to better tolerability (less gas and bloating). Plus, it can be added to recipes for baked goods as well as savory foods without affecting their taste, aroma or consistency. It is also an excellent smoothie ingredient.
Other simple, easy ways to boost your fiber intake
- Add chia, flaxseed, raisins or berries to your oatmeal or cereal
- Pass on the corn flakes, rice crisps and sugary breakfast cereals and opt for a high-fiber cereal
- Use sprouted whole-grain breads
- Choose sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes (they have more fiber and nutrients)
- Choose whole wheat pasta over white pasta
- Snack on nuts, seeds and dried fruit
Remember to gradually increase your fiber intake to allow your bowels time to adjust.
Biography: Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, also known as “The Nutrition Myth Buster” ™ is a nationally known board-certified nutritionist and expert on diet and weight loss. He has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS as an expert on nutrition has contributed to articles in The New York Times, Forbes, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Vanity Fair Online, Men’s Heath, Prevention, and dozens of other print and online publications.
Dr. Jonny is the best-selling author of 15 books including The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, Living Low Carb (now in its fourth edition), and is the co-author, with cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, of the controversial best-seller, “The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease and the Statin-Free Plan that Will”. His latest book, Smart Fat: Eat More Fat, Lose More Weight, Get Healthy Now!– written with PBS star Steven Masley, MD— was published by Harper Collins in January 2016.