The benefits of fiber are far-reaching, helping everything from regularity, weight management, blood sugar control, and healthy cholesterol. But did you know there are actually two different types of fiber?
Soluble fiber attracts water forming a “gel” to slow digestion and carry LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from the body. Sources include bran cereals, edamame, beans, oats, seeds, vegetables (especially avocadoes, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and sweet potatoes) and fruits with the skin (think apples and pears). Soluble fiber helps reduce cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, flax, vegetables, wheat bran, nuts and beans. This type of fiber is best known for helping with regularity as it absorbs water and adds bulk in the intestines. It also decreases the risk of colon cancer, hemorrhoids, colon cancer and obesity.
How much do I need? The average adult needs about 25 to 35 grams of total fiber each day. Since most fiber sources contain both types of fiber, it’s recommended that you focus on a diet high in overall fiber (you probably won’t find the type of fiber listed on the nutrition facts panel, anyway).
How do I get more fiber? Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and at least three servings of whole grains each day for a healthy mix of fiber. When grocery shopping or preparing meals try to
- Pick grain products made with whole grains
- Include beans or lentils daily in chili, tacos, enchiladas, soups or salads
- Eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible with the skin or peel intact
- Add vegetables to sandwiches, pizza, or pasta
- Make your snacks count, too, by choosing fruits, vegetables, whole grains or nuts
Adding high-fiber foods to your day are great for your health, but adding too much fiber too quickly can cause gas and bloating. Increase fiber gradually over a few weeks so your digestive system can adjust to the change. You’ll also want to drink plenty of water as you increase fiber; it works best when it can absorb water.