Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - Spring 2011
|The votes are in and it's official: Fiber is the next top superfood. |
Q: Why should I care about fiber?
A: For more reasons than you probably know. Beyond its well-known effects on healthy digestion, fiber also may reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to ongoing research. That’s not a bad payoff considering that fiber is a group of carbohydrates that our bodies can’t digest.
Q. How much fiber do I need?
A. Typically about 25 grams a day for adult women 19–50 and 38 grams for men. Women over 50 require about 21 grams and men 30. Most Americans get only half that amount.
Q: Can I get too much fiber?
A: “Absolutely,” says Sari Greaves, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Going over 40 grams of fiber a day can displace other nutrients and interfere with the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals.”
Q. How does fiber improve digestion?
A. The secret of this trick is simple: Water. “Fiber pulls water into the intestinal tract, keeping everything larger, softer and moving more quickly and easily,” says Katherine Tallmadge, R.D., author of Diet Simple: 192 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations (LifeLine Press, 2003). This can help prevent constipation and other intestinal disorders.
|Q. Can fiber help with weight loss?|
A. Yes! “Studies have shown adding high-fiber foods, such as vegetables, before or during a meal decreases the overall calorie content of the meal by about 100,” says Tallmadge. “That translates into losing 10 pounds in one year.”
Q. Is it true that fiber lowers cholesterol?
A. Yes, that’s true, but … only for the soluble type of fiber. Soluble fiber is most commonly encountered in oats, beans and apples. (The other form of fiber, insoluble, is found in vegetables and wheat bran.) “Soluble fiber acts as a sponge in the body to soak up cholesterol in the blood,” says Greaves. Excess cholesterol in the blood can lead to fat deposits on artery walls. This narrows the artery and constricts blood flow, a dangerous condition known as atherosclerosis.
|Q. Some kids’ cereals claim they’re a good source of fiber. Are they really?|
A. If the label says “Good source of fiber,” you can count on it. This particular claim is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. “The product must include more than 2.5 grams of fiber per serving in order to make that claim,” says Joanne L. Slavin, Ph.D., R.D., professor in the food science and nutrition department at the University of Minnesota. The fiber in kids’ cereals usually comes from a mix of corn, oat or wheat flours plus isolated fibers, such as corn or oat fiber.
Q. Do some white breads contain fiber?
A. They do, though not necessarily from whole grain. To boost fiber, white bread may have a little whole wheat, rye or other whole grain flour mixed in with the white flour. Or it may contain one or more added fibers. “There are many fibers that can work for this—cottonseed fiber, cellulose and inulin,” Slavin says. Look for those words on the label. One type of fiber you may be seeing more often is “resistant starch.” This natural substance appears to combine the benefits of both insoluble and soluble fiber.
|Q. Does it matter whether fiber comes from natural food sources or is added? How can I tell the difference?|
A. “The jury’s still out on the benefits of added fibers,” Greaves says. That’s why she recommends getting fiber in its natural form whenever possible. She says that you’ll often get more nutrients if you choose foods that are made with a whole grain instead of just an isolated fiber. “Look for the word ‘whole’ on labels, such as whole cornmeal instead of corn fiber,” she says. If you don’t see “whole” in the ingredients list of a high-fiber product, it probably contains added fibers such as inulin. Many researchers caution that most of the evidence for fiber’s benefits is strongest in whole foods rather than supplements or added fiber.
|Q. Does taking fiber supplements work as well as eating high-fiber foods?|
A. “It’s best to get fiber from whole foods in your diet,” Tallmadge says. Unlike the fiber found in food, fiber supplements have not been proven to prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, she says. The sole exception is supplements made from viscous fibers such as guar gum or psyllium, which may improve gastrointestinal function and slightly lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.
Q. Should I increase the fiber in my diet gradually or all at once?
A. By all means, gradually. You’ll have fewer side effects if you slowly increase the amount and drink plenty of water. “Add fiber by just 5-gram increments each week until you get to the recommended daily intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men,” Tallmadge says.
|Q. How can I relieve the gas and bloating that come with eating high-fiber foods?|
A. It's easy. If you're just starting to eat high-fiber foods, adding them in small amounts will reduce gas and bloating. If you already follow a high-fiber diet, it could be that certain foods, such as broccoli, bother you more than others. Limit your intake of those foods or replace them with other high-fiber foods that your body doesn't react to as much.
(1 cup canned)
(1 cup fresh)