By Helaine Krasner, RD
Fiber is essential for good health and is especially helpful for weight management. Diets rich in fiber have been linked to many health benefits including bowel regularity, lower cholesterol levels, improved blood sugar control, and a healthier body weight.
Fiber is considered a carbohydrate and is found in plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds. Although humans lack the digestive enzymes needed to break down all the fiber we eat, it provides an important fuel source for the good bacteria that perform important functions in our digestive tract. Fiber is sometimes referred to as prebiotics due to its important role of supporting healthy bacteria, also referred to as probiotics.
Fiber in whole foods is referred to as dietary fiber while fiber added to processed foods is called functional fiber. It’s best to get fiber from whole foods. Don’t be fooled by unhealthy snack foods that contain added fiber in an attempt to make the product appear healthier than it really is. Whole foods contain a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to a gel. This slows digestion and gastric emptying, which helps you feel full. Soluble fiber can also help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Common sources include oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples, and blueberries. Insoluble fiber is beneficial due to its ability to add bulk and softness to stool, which helps decrease transit time and decreases the risk of constipation. Common sources include whole wheat, brown rice, legumes, carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
How much fiber is recommended?
- 25-35 grams/day depending on age and gender
- A general guideline is 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories consumed
Most Americans don’t consume enough. Aim for at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables and fruits daily. More is even better. It can be challenging to get enough dietary fiber after bariatric surgery. Consider a fiber supplement if you are unable to tolerate food sources, but check with your doctor for the product that’s right for you.
How to get more fiber:
- Add vegetables to meals.
- Snack on fruits and vegetables or a handful of nuts.
- Eat more beans. They’re also a good source of protein!
Helpful tips for increasing fiber intake:
- Increase gradually over a week or so to avoid possible unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, cramping, and gas.
- Consume sources throughout the day rather than all in one meal.
- Be sure to increase your fluid intake to help the extra fiber move through.
Helaine Krasner is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes great pride in helping our Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients achieve their health and weight loss goals.