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Erin Nitschke

As nutrients go, fiber doesn’t get enough credit. Fiber is the misunderstood nutrient. When I work with clients and students who struggle with adequate fiber intake and I suggest to them – “let’s work on boosting fiber intake” – I often get this response: “You mean I need to eat food that tastes like cardboard?” First, I don’t really know what cardboard tastes like, and I hope you don’t either. Second, absolutely not! Fiber is a fun and flavorful part of nutrition—and it boosts health and fitness levels. Let’s talk about the why’s and how’s.

What is fiber?

Fiber is categorized as either dietary fiber (obtained naturally from plant foods) or functional fiber (obtained from the diet from fibers added to foods). These two categories add up to “total fiber.” Total fiber is further classified as high viscosity (soluble) and low viscosity (insoluble) fiber.

What’s the difference?

High viscosity fibers are found in foods such as oats, legumes, barley, pectin, apples, citrus foods, carrots and psyllium seeds. In contrast, low viscosity fibers are found in foods such as whole-wheat flour, bran, veggies, strawberries and kiwi.

What’s the role of fiber?

Together, fibers…

  • Add bulk to stools
  • Slow gastric emptying
  • Increase feelings of fullness
  • Slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream (reducing a spike in insulin)
  • Bind to cholesterol and what isn’t absorbed is excreted (has a positive impact on cardiovascular disease risk)
  • Supports regular bowel activities

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Other fiber facts

  • Fiber, by itself, has no caloric value (unlike carbs, fats, proteins, and alcohol). That said, fiber is a component of many foods and is necessary to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract and system.
  • A diet low in fiber has been linked to an increase in colon polyps and colon cancer.
  • Fiber is a filling component of food. For example, a breakfast high in fiber (and protein) will have more “staying power” than one consisting of sugared/white flour cereal.
  • Fiber is easy to find and comes in a variety of foods.

How can I add fiber to my diet?

The best news yet: adding fiber to your daily dietary meal plans in no way sacrifices quality or flavor! Additionally, adding fiber to meals and snacks is easy to do. Here are some strategies to help fill your plate with this fantastic nutrient.

  • Add raw nuts to your snacks. These pair well with a piece of fruit and you get double the fiber serving.
  • Add a tablespoon (or two) to oatmeal and whole-grain cereal and pancakes.
  • Look for breads that have “whole wheat” and not “enriched” ingredients (whole wheat and/or whole grain should be listed as the first ingredients in the label).
  • Add baked or mashed sweet potatoes (with skin on) to dinners as side dishes.
  • Try brown rice, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”), or whole-grain pasta over white rice or other refined white pasta products.
  • Add fruit to meals.
  • Try hummus or homemade salsa for tasty side dish.

General tip: read the nutrition facts panel and any product with less than 5% of the daily value of fiber is considered “low in fiber”; any product that contains 20% or more of the daily value is considered “high in fiber” (which is what you want).

Making it work for you

Adding fiber to your diet is important for bowel regularity and heart health (and many other health-related benefits). If you are currently consuming less than the recommended amount (28-38 grams of fiber/day), add fiber to your diet gradually. Adding too much fiber too soon can result in excess bloating and gas. Another key to making fiber consumption successful is to stay hydrated. If you are not hydrated and consuming a good amount of fiber, you can experience constipation.

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Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother and passionate fitness professional. Visit her personal blog at belivestaywell.com. She can be reached at erinmd03@gmail.com

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