Fiber for fabulous digestion: Eight tasty sources for Summer

Why is fiber good for you?  If you don’t know, you aren’t alone.  We hear a lot about fiber, but many of us don’t really understand why or how it can benefit us.

Fiber is the part of a plant that we don’t break down and, instead, pass through our system. There are two different kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble.  Both are important to our health, but in different ways.

Fiber_Pears_200Soluble fiber dissolves in water while insoluble fiber does not.  Soluble fiber, because it attracts water, forms a gel-like substance in the stomach and can therefore slow digestion. This can make you feel full sooner, so you eat less. It can slow the absorption of carbohydrates, and therefore control blood sugar, and can impair the absorption of cholesterol.  As a result, soluble fiber can help with weight control, diabetes management, and cholesterol lowering.  Some sources of soluble fibers include fruits, lentils, oats, beans, and cucumbers.

Insoluble fiber has a laxative effect, speeding up the passage of food and water through your gastrointestinal tract. This can help you avoid constipation, have regular bowel movements, and reduce the risk of diverticulosis. These types of fibers are found primarily in whole grains and in vegetables.

Be aware that as you increase the fiber in your diet, you might naturally produce more gas. Therefore, consider increasing fiber intake gradually in order to allow your system to adjust.  Your water intake should also increase as you increase your fiber intake, due to the increased water absorption by the fiber.

Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains are all packed with fiber.

Here are eight examples of fiber-rich foods that are easy to include in your diet:

Lima beans: These beans are high in fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, and protein. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) might be sensitive to the fiber in beans and experience discomfort.  Start with small amounts, and increase slowly.

Broccoli and cauliflower: Steamed broccoli and cauliflower contain more than 20 percent fiber and help you control your cholesterol. They’re also rich in antioxidants and other important nutrients. They do increase gas, so watch out if you have IBS.

Fiber_Avocado_200Avocado: Rich in healthy fats that are good for your heart. Also high in insoluble fiber, helping material pass through the digestive tract and avoid constipation.

Sweet potato: Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, thiamine and fiber. Use them in place of regular potatoes.

Pear: The skin of the pear has been shown to contain about half of the pear’s total dietary fiber, so eat the whole thing! Pears also contain antioxidants, anti-inflammatory flavonoids, and potentially anti-cancer phytonutrients.

Raspberries: Raspberries contain 17 grams of fiber per cup, more than half the recommended daily amount. They are also a great source of antioxidants and vitamin C.

Oats: This healthy grain can help remove cholesterol from the digestive system that would otherwise end up in the bloodstream. Much of the fiber in oatmeal is soluble — a type of fiber that is especially beneficial for your heart. Oatmeal is an excellent source of fiber on its own, but you can further boost the fiber content by adding blueberries, sliced bananas, diced apples or another type of fruit.

Bran: A simple way to increase fiber intake, bran from many grains is rich in fiber. Oat bran is high in soluble fiber, which has been shown to control cholesterol levels. Wheat, corn, and rice bran are high in insoluble fiber, which helps prevent constipation.

Seeking to optimize your health? Join a Baptist HeartWise Eating Plan class to learn about the Mediterranean approach to clean, healthy eating.

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