CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Generally, people have a difficult time eating the right amount of the right foods on a regular basis. If it came easy, perhaps we wouldn't be such an obese nation. Problem is we -- including me -- have a love affair with delectable foods.
I am inclined to think about food often because it conjures up pleasant thoughts. Blame it on my Italian heritage -- it's comforting.
I deal with this challenge in two ways: I stay physically active, and I make a conscious effort to eat enough good foods. "Good" as in worth the calories. I've said it before: Fill your belly with quality, nutrient-dense food, and you'll be more apt to turn down the low-quality calorie-laden junk.
One of the healthiest ways to take up space in the stomach (feel satisfied) is to choose fiber-rich foods. Unfortunately, fiber isn't always associated with great flavor or gourmet appeal. It's a shame, really, because it should be. Dietary fiber is in the most colorful foods, fruits and vegetables. So why do we think of fiber as cardboard? This is a mindset that needs to change.
The American Dietetic Association recommends we consume 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day from food. Sadly, on average we get only about half that. Which begs the question, what is fiber anyway?
Fiber is simply a nutrient our bodies cannot digest. It is in all plants we eat such as fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. Its primary job is to change the nature of the contents in the gastrointestinal tract, and to affect how other nutrients and chemicals are absorbed. Dietary fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticulitis and constipation.
But there are two types of fiber that need to be distinguished: soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble fiber (partially dissolves in water) helps reduce our cholesterol levels, which protects us from heart disease and slows the absorption of sugar and other nutrients from the bowel. It's found in oats, barley, apples, pears, soy products such as edamame, dried beans and peas and citrus fruit.
- Insoluble fiber (does not dissolve in water) is a rougher kind of fiber that passes through the gut largely unchanged and therefore provides bulk to stools. It is found in wheat bran, whole-wheat products and most vegetables and may prevent constipation and promote good bowel health.
If we understood the enormous health benefits fiber provides, we might be more inclined to buy it and include it in our diets. Here are a few good reasons to start roughing it:
Fiber and heart disease, diabetes
A Harvard study of more than 40,000 people concluded that those who consumed a diet high in fiber reduced their risk for coronary heart disease by 40 percent, compared to those who ate a low-fiber diet. Cereal fiber in grains was particularly beneficial. Fiber intake was also linked with the metabolic syndrome, a group of factors that increase the chances of developing heart disease and diabetes. High blood pressure, high insulin levels, excessive abdominal weight, high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL (healthy) cholesterol were all positively impacted with a high-fiber diet.