Do you have high cholesterol? Increase your fiber!
Do you have high blood pressure? Increase your fiber!
Are you overweight? Increase your fiber!
What is it with fiber (also known as roughage)? The lack of it seems to play a role in just about all of our health problems. Well, as far as blood pressure and cholesterol go, dietary fiber binds to cholesterol in circulation and helps remove it from the body. Research has shown that for every one to two grams of daily soluble fiber intake, LDL (bad) cholesterol is lowered by one percent. On the weight control side of things, fiber increases satiety (how full you feel), aiding efforts to lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight.
There are four things you need to know to make dietary fiber work for you:
1.) There are two types of fiber. Insoluble fiber remains relatively intact as it passes through the digestive system. The primary function of insoluble fiber is to move waste through the intestines and maintain intestinal acid balance. Soluble fiber is the type of fiber responsible for lowering total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
2.) Sources of insoluble fiber include fruit skins and root vegetable skins, vegetables (green beans, celery, cauliflower, zucchini, beets, turnips, and dark-green leafy vegetables), wheat and whole-wheat products, corn bran, seeds, and nuts.
3.) Sources of soluble fiber include oat and oat bran, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, barley, rye, flaxseed, fruits, vegetables (carrots, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions), and psyllium husk.
4.) How much do you need? Shoot for 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber every day. Of this, soluble fiber should make up 15 grams. The average US dietary fiber intake is 12 to 18 grams per day. If your current diet is very low in dietary fiber, don't increase to 35 grams overnight. A sudden increase will result in gastrointestinal distress and unpleasant side effects (flatulence and diarrhea). You want to increase your fiber intake gradually.
Bottom line: Select high fiber foods, especially foods that contain soluble fiber. I once heard a gastroenterologist say he would be out of a job if everyone just ate more beans!