Boost Your Fiber Intake, Boost Your Health
November is American Diabetes Month and with all the talk about blood sugar and high quantities of sugar in our diets, glucose is on our minds. As a dietitian, I work with many patients who live with diabetes, and one of my number one recommendations for diabetics is to increase their fiber intake.
Before, it was easy to walk down the grocery aisles and choose high fiber foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. But now, it seems as if every item on the shelves “has fiber.” High fiber, fiber added, or fiber-fortified are commonly seen on labels. The most unlikely products now have fiber.
To get a better picture, there are two different types of naturally occurring fiber in foods – insoluble and soluble – and artificially added fiber, called isolated fiber.
Insoluble fiber, the kind we find in vegetables and fruits, helps our digestion – improving regularity, keeping our colons healthy. Read More>
Soluble fiber, the kind we find in legumes and oats, works to decrease cholesterol and blood sugar in our bodies. “A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people with diabetes who ate 50 grams of fiber a day — particularly soluble fiber — were able to control their blood glucose better than those who ate far less.” (How Does Fiber Affect Blood Glucose Levels, www.joslin.org)
Artificially added fiber that has been added to foods that do not usually contain fiber or to increase a food’s fiber contents are called isolated fibers.
To go a little deeper, naturally occurring fiber is called roughage, carbohydrates that aren’t broken down by the human body. This naturally occurring fiber is called intact fiber. It doesn’t add any calories to our diet, but bacteria in our stomachs metabolize this fiber.
Functional fibers, or isolated fibers that are added to foods that don’t usually have fiber is where the tricky part comes in. And the jury is out as to whether they are as healthy for us as naturally occurring fibers. Cookies, sweeteners, chips, and breakfast cereals with added fiber are still cookies, sweeteners, chips and breakfast cereals. Isolated fibers are often found in highly processed foods that contain high levels of sugars and sodium to make them more attractive. Though you’re adding fiber in your diet, you’re also bumping up your sugar, salt, and processed foods.
When purchasing canned or boxed foods, look at the labels to see whether the fibers in the food are intact fibers (naturally occurring) or functional or isolated (artificially added fibers). The most common isolated fibers used in foods are: Maltodextrin, Chicory Root, Polydextrose, Oat fiber, Resistant Starch, Pectin, and Gum.
So when a dietitian recommends a high fiber diet, we’re recommending an increase in natural fibers: more vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruits. Initially increase your dietary fiber in increments, as fiber is also what makes us feel bloated and gassy.
The Institute of Medicine recommends 25 grams of fiber per day for women 50 and younger and 21 grams, per day, for women over 50. For men, it’s 38 and 30 grams of fiber respectively.
Benefits of a high fiber diet abound including bettering colorectal health, lowering glucose levels and cholesterol, as well as helping maintain a healthy weight. A healthy dose of naturally occurring fibers in your diet, like we find in apples, with six to eight glasses of water a day should keep the doctor away.