(NewsUSA) – Fiber — you know it’s good for you. But if you’re like many Americans, you don’t get enough. Most of us get less than half the recommended amount of fiber each day.
Dietary fiber is found in the plants you eat, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It’s sometimes called “bulk” or “roughage.” You’ve probably heard that it can help with digestion. So it may seem odd that fiber is a substance your body can’t digest.
“You might think that if it’s not digestible, then it’s of no value. But there’s no question that higher intake of fiber from all food sources is beneficial,” says Dr. Joanne Slavin, a nutrition scientist at the University of Minnesota.
Fiber can relieve constipation and normalize your bowel movements. Some studies suggest that high-fiber diets might also help with weight loss and reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
Experts recommend that men get about 38 grams of fiber a day and that women get about 25 grams. Unfortunately, in the United States, we take in an average of only 14 grams each day.
Different types of fiber might affect your health in different ways. Soluble fiber can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. It’s found in oat bran, beans, peas and most fruits. Insoluble fiber can treat or prevent constipation and diverticular disease, which affects the colon. It’s found in wheat bran and some vegetables.
“In general, people should not be too concerned by the specific type of fiber,” says Dr. Somdat Mahabir, a nutrition and disease expert with the National Institutes of Health. “The focus should be more on eating diets that are rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits to get the daily fiber requirement.”
Experts recommend you get most of your fiber from these natural sources, since they’re also packed with vitamins and other nutrients. Many packaged foods tout added fibers, such as inulin, polydextrose or maltodextrin. But their health benefits are still unclear. Research suggests they may not have the same effects as the intact fibers found in whole foods.
Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts to add a mix of different fibers and a wide range of nutrients to your diet. Increase your intake gradually, so your body can get used to it. Adding fiber slowly will help you avoid gas, bloating and cramps.
— Adapted from “NIH News in Health” (newsinhealth.nih.gov).