Wooden bowl of mixed saladFiber plays an essential role in the health of your heart and the health of your gut. According to the Institute of Medicine, the average adult woman needs at least 25 grams of fiber per day. The adult man needs at least 38 grams. The problem is that most of us don’t eat anywhere near this amount of fiber. The average American gets only about 10 to 15 grams per day. Our intake is so low in this country because Americans tend to eat a lot of processed foods and fast foods, which are notoriously low in fiber.

What is fiber? Fiber is a carbohydrate found in the skeletal structure of plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes. Fiber is very different from other essential nutrients in that we do not actually digest it. Fiber passes through our digestive tract mostly intact.

There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble.  Both are important to your health. Soluble fiber partially dissolves in water and creates a gel-like substance that helps lower blood cholesterol levels and glucose levels. Examples of soluble fiber include oatmeal, nuts, seeds, legumes, apples, blueberries, and strawberries. Insoluble fiber absorbs water and passes through the intestines largely intact. It is present in whole grains, seeds, celery, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, and brown rice. Seventy percent of the fiber in our diet is insoluble.

Why is fiber so important? There have been numerous research studies pointing to the importance of fiber for your body. Fiber has been shown to

  • help regulate blood sugar levels and lower your risk of getting Type 2 Diabetes
  • help prevent gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis
  • prevent hemorrhoids
  • reduce the  risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and hypertension
  • help you lose weight

How do you get more fiber in your diet?

  • Eat more whole fruits and vegetables, preferably uncooked.
  • Don’t peel edible skins from fruits and vegetables. Skins are a great source of fiber.
  • Add lentils, beans and split peas to your soups. If you are using canned beans, be sure to rinse in a colander before using to remove excess starch and salt.
  • Try a palm-full of almonds as a snack.
  • Eat healthy grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, steel cut oats. Bulgur wheat has the most fiber of all the whole grains.

Exceptions:  There are some individuals for whom a fiber-restricted diet is recommended. People who are receiving certain radiation treatments or who have undergone bowel surgery may need to restrict their fiber intake for a period of time. Be sure to check with your doctor.