You may only think about your fiber intake when you are concerned about bowel regularity. Here are four reasons why fiber is also important for heart health.
1. It helps promote healthy cholesterol levels, particularly the LDL (bad) cholesterol.
2. It helps support normal, healthy blood pressure.
3. It supports healthy blood glucose levels. This is important for people at risk of heart disease, in addition to those who are diabetic.
4. It helps with weight management by promoting satiety (feeling of fullness), reducing cravings and helping to reduce food intake
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 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men. For those over age 50, the requirements drop to 21 and 30 grams respectively. You can calculate how much fiber you are getting by referring to this chart from the National Fiber Council.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel, adding volume to the stool and making it easier 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. It forms a soft pulp as it moves through the colon, aiding colon contractions. Insoluble fiber is found in wheat bran, many vegetables, and some fruits such as apples, grape skins, berries, pineapple and oranges.
Some types of dietary fiber act as prebiotics, which feed the beneficial probiotics in your gut. Food sources of prebiotics include inulin (chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke), soybeans and unrefined wheat and barley. Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum, available in supplement form, is also a good 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 compared to capsules. They are also more cost effective
• Look for a fiber that mixes well with water.
• 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 is made from partially hydrolyzed guar gum through a slow fermentation process which leads to better tolerability (less gas and bloating). Plus, it is clear when mixed with water, and it is tasteless and odorless so you can also mix it with your favorite beverage.
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.