Fiber...we're all familiar with the term, but what is it exactly, and why is it so important to good health?
Fiber comes from plants. Its really the structural backbone, if you will, that gives rigidity and strength to plant stems, fruits and leaves. Once you've eaten a fiber-containing food, it adds bulk to your digestive tract, easing the elimination of wastes and helping to avoid constipation.
Its able to do this because fiber is virtually indigestible--your body can't break down the bonds that hold it together.
There are two types of fiber, insoluble and soluble. As the names imply, soluble fiber dissolves in water, whereas the insoluble doesn't. Altogether the foods you eat contain mostly soluble fiber.
Once dissolved, soluble fibers become quite gummy, and in your intestines they can bind with fatty substances which may actually help reduce cholesterol levels. There is also some evidence that soluble fiber can help with blood sugar control.
For optimal health, aim to have between 25 and 35 grams of fiber a day.
How can you figure out how much fiber you are getting in your diet?
Food labels are a good place to start. A product with "High Fiber" on its label contains 5 grams or more of fiber, and a "Good Source" contains 2.5 to 4.9 grams.
What are the best sources of fiber? Beans, lentils, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Aim for at least 4 to 5 cups of fruits and veggies per day, along with whole grain breads and cereals. Add to that some legumes--about 3 or more cups per week--and you should have a great fiber intake.
Remember, though, if you are not used to eating this much fiber, work up to it gradually and don't forget to drink lots of water! Whenever possible, choose fruits and veggies that contain skin...berries are a great source of fiber, too.
Fiber's added bonus...because it adds bulk to your diet, it can make you feel full, which hopefully leads you to eat less and ultimately weigh less!