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Health Benefits of Fiber

Fiber is a nutrient that many of us know is important, but we don’t know much about it.

Fiber refers to carbohydrates that your body cannot digest. It’s also called “roughage” or “bulk.” Fiber is what makes carrots and peanuts crunchy, it makes bread chewy and provides the bulk in lettuce and the thickness in split pea soup. Fiber is present in all plants that are eaten for food, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes.

Not all fiber is the same. Soluble fiber partially dissolves in water. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, dried beans and certain fruits such as apples and oranges. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Vegetables, wheat bran and other whole grains are good sources of insoluble fiber. Foods that are high in fiber are usually low in calories and fat and have other important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

Fiber Recommendations
Although specific recommendations vary, experts suggest that adults consume 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Most adults get only half this amount. Children need less, depending on their age. To figure how much fiber children ages 3 to 18 should be eating, add five to the child’s age. For example, a 10-year-old child would need about 15 grams of fiber daily.

A diet with plenty of fiber provides health benefits that can last throughout your lifetime.

Health Effects
Fiber helps keep food moving smoothly and regularly through your body. Fiber can also help reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diverticular disease and constipation.

Heart disease. Fiber helps fight heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels. The fiber in beans and some grains, such as oats, barley and rice bran, helps lower high levels of blood cholesterol for some people. These foods are also low in fat, which can also help lower the risk of heart disease.

Cancer. People who eat a high-fiber diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains are less likely to develop certain types of cancer. The exact role of fiber in cancer prevention is not known. It may be the action of fiber along with other nutrients in these foods that offers protection against cancer.

Blood Sugar. Fiber helps to control blood sugar levels by slowing the rate at which your body digests and absorbs glucose (sugar) from foods.

Digestive problems. Fiber in foods made from grains, such as whole wheat, helps prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. For people with diverticulosis, a high-fiber diet can help prevent painful flare-ups.

Weight control. Fiber-rich foods may help with weight control. A high-fiber diet is usually lower in calories because fiber-rich foods tend to make you feel full sooner so you eat less. Fiber-rich foods also can help you feel full longer, so you’re less likely to snack between meals.

Fiber Sources

Food

Grams of Fiber per Serving

Grains

Bran cereal, ½ cup

10-13

Raisin bran cereal, 1 cup

5

Popcorn, 3 cups

4

Oat bran, cooked, 1 cup

4

Oatmeal, cooked, ¾ cup

3

Wheat flakes cereal, 1 cup

3

Whole-wheat pasta, ½ cup

3

Rye bread, 1 slice

2

Whole-wheat bread, 1 slice

2

Brown rice, cooked, ½ cup

2

White rice, cooked, ½ cup

1

Bagel, ½ medium

1

 

 

Vegetables

 

Okinawan Sweet Potato w/skin, 1 cup cooked

5

Potato, baked with skin, 1 medium

5

Choy Sum, 1 cup

4

Green peas, cooked, ½ cup

4

Snow peas, 1 cup cooked and drained

4

Winter squash, cooked, ½ cup

4

Sweet potato, baked with skin, 1 medium

3

Broccoli, cooked, ½ cup

3

Brussels sprouts, cooked, ½ cup

3

Long Beans, 1 cup cooked and drained

3

Shiitake Mushrooms, 1 cup cooked

3

Beansprouts, 1 cup, raw

2

Bok Choy, 1 cup, shredded, cooked and     drained

2

Cabbage, shredded, raw, 1 cup

2

Carrots, raw, 1 medium

2

Corn, cooked, ½ cup

2

Eggplant, 1 cup cooked and drained

2

Chinese Cabbage, 1 cup, raw

1

Tomato, 1 medium

1

Romaine lettuce, 1 ½ cups

1

Spinach, raw, 1 cup

1

 

 

Fruits

 

Avocado, local variety, 1 cup, sliced

10

Persimmon with skin, 2 ½” x 3 ½” piece

6

Apple, with peel, 1 medium

4

Pear, with peel, 1 medium

4

Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries),     ½ cup

4

Apricots, dried, ¼ cup

3

Mango, 1 cup, sliced

3

Orange, 1 medium

3

Papaya, 1 cup, cubed

3

Prunes, ¼ cup

3

Banana, 1 medium

3

Lychee, 1 cup

2

Raisins, ¼ cup

2

Peach, with skin, 1 medium

2

Pineapple, 1 cup, diced

1

 

 

Dried Beans and Peas

 

Lentils, cooked, ½ cup

8

Split peas, cooked, ½ cup

8

Baked beans, ½ cup

6

Black-eyed peas, cooked, ½ cup

6

Dried beans, cooked (kidney, pinto, navy),      ½ cup

4

Azuki beans, 1 tbsp, canned, sweetened

1

 

 

Nuts and Seeds

 

Almonds, whole, ¼ cup

4

Peanuts, dry-roasted, ¼ cup

3

Peanut butter, 2 tbsp

2

Sunflower seeds, ¼ cup

2

Sesame seeds, 1 tbsp

1

 

Make Fiber a Regular Part of Your Meals and Snacks

Start slowly. Eating too much fiber too fast can cause gas, cramps, and diarrhea. Add one high-fiber food at a time to your diet.

Drink lots of water. When you add more fiber to your diet, drink plenty of liquids to help keep the fiber moving through your digestive tract. Eating too much fiber without drinking enough fluids can cause constipation.

Eat a variety of foods. This helps to ensure that you’re also getting a variety of nutrients your body needs each day.


Eat the peels. The edible skins of many fruits and vegetables, like apples and potatoes, contain most of the fiber. Be sure the peels and vegetables are thoroughly washed before cooking and eating them.

Choose whole grains. Foods made with whole grains, like some breads and cereals, are good sources of fiber. Buy products that list a whole grain, such as whole wheat, oats, corn, or barley, as the first ingredient.

Include fiber at every meal. Eat fiber-rich foods throughout the day to get your daily fiber needs.

Look for ways to increase fiber intake. Choose whole-wheat bread instead of white bread and brown rice instead of white rice.

Get your fiber from foods. Most people can get all the fiber they need from food. A doctor or dietitian can help you decide if you need fiber supplements.

Add Fiber to Your Diet

  • Eat a whole grain cereal for breakfast. Or mix a high-fiber cereal, such as bran, with your favorite ready-to-eat or hot cereal.
  • Top cereal and pancakes with fresh or frozen blueberries, peaches, or strawberries.
  • Eat whole fruits more often than drinking juice since fiber is found mainly in the peel and pulp.
  • Mix chopped dried fruits and nuts into chicken or turkey salads.
  • Use whole-wheat varieties of bread, pita bread, or tortillas for sandwiches.
  • Eat a salad or stir fried vegetables for dinner.
  • Add garbanzo beans, kidney beans, or other beans to salads.
  • Top a baked potato with salsa or broccoli or other chopped vegetables. Eat the potato skin too.
  • Snack on fresh vegetables, like carrot sticks, broccoli florets, or red pepper strips, dipped in a low-fat ranch dressing.
  • Increase the fiber in soups, stews, main dishes, lasagnas and casseroles by adding chopped vegetables and legumes.
  • Try a whole-wheat or whole grain variety of pasta.
  • Snack on a handful of nuts (in moderation), soynuts, dried fruit, grape tomatoes or a bowl of popcorn.
  • Top fresh fruit with vanilla yogurt for dessert.
  • Serve fat-free bean dips with tortilla chips for a snack.
  • Substitute legumes for meat two to three times per week in chili and soups.
  • Bake with whole-wheat flour by replacing half of the regular flour with whole-wheat flour.
  • Try international foods (such as Indian or Middle Eastern) that use whole grains and legumes as part of the main meal or in salads.

Sources of Fiber

Soluable Fiber

Insoluable Fiber

Apples

Carrots

Blueberries

Celery

Legumes

Cucumbers

• Beans

Seeds

• Dried peas

Tomatoes

• Lentils

Wheat bran

Nuts

Whole grains

Oatbran

• barley

Oatmeal

• bulgur

Oranges

• brown rice

Pears

• couscous

Strawberries

• whole wheat breads

 

Whole-grain breakfast cereals

 

Zucchini

References: American Dietetic Association and www.hawaiifoods.hawaii.edu.

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