“Mmmmmm!” may not be what you think of when you think of fiber, but as a dietitian, I promote a diet that is high in fiber. Since I practice what I preach, this is the way I roll at home.Some of you may remember one of my earlier blogs where I wrote about my son asking Santa to bring him a loaf of white bread for Christmas because we always had whole-wheat bread available – no Sunbeam® at our house! I have had to adjust my menus and “tone down” the fiber content for several guests that were not quite used to my homemade whole wheat bread. I won’t go into those episodes, but you can imagine the side effects! Both of my son-in-laws have commented on the high-fiber meals I prepare.
Benefits of a High-Fiber Diet
Most folks take fiber for granted. In fact, most of us don’t give fiber the credit it deserves! Fiber could be the “miracle food” if I was defining miracle foods. A diet consistently high in fiber can decrease headaches, help prevent irregularity, constipation and sluggishness. Folks that eat a diet high in fiber are at less risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, have lower cholesterol and glucose levels, and even lower blood pressure. They are also at reduced risk for colon cancer.
Up to 80 percent of our immune system is located in our intestinal tract. That’s why eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables and fiber can help improve your immune system. Also, fiber doesn’t contain calories and quickly moves through our system.
Sources of Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
There are two kinds of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is found in citrus fruits, apples, beans, oats, peas, rice bran and some vegetables. Insoluble fiber is not digested in our system. Examples are whole-wheat flours and breads, wheat and rye bran, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, outer skins of blueberries and grapes, nuts and carrots.
Some folks resist fiber because they think high-fiber foods must taste like cardboard or sawdust. They have never tasted my homemade whole wheat bread (aka “colon cleanser” according to one of my son-in-laws!). Fiber-filled foods are colorful, fun and interesting.
5 Ways to Increase Your Fiber Intake
Most of us eat about 10-15 grams of fiber daily (combination of soluble and insoluble), but we need 25-35 grams. So, how do you increase your intake? The key is to do it gradually over two to four weeks. Here are five tips on how to increase fiber in your diet:
1. Eat one serving of high fiber cereal every day. Read the label on the side of the box or carton and select a cereal that has 6-10 grams of fiber/serving. Suggested cereals are oat bran, All Bran®, Kashi Go Lean®, Fiber One®, Oat Bran Cereal, Shredded Wheat®, Grape Nuts®, Raisin Bran®, and Wheat Chex®.Granola cereals can have a lot of fiber but these cereals can also be high in fat and saturated fats. Take care and portion granola cereals lightly.
2. Eat 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. I know some of you might think I am nuts (which are high in fiber) to eat that many fruits and veggies a day. But it is very doable! Most of us eat 3 meals a day and if we add a fruit at breakfast and a fruit and veggie at lunch and supper and more fruits and veggies for our snacks – you can easily eat 5-8 servings/day.
One easy and economical trick is to buy fruit when it is in season and freeze for later use. My best tip for seasonal fruit is for blueberries. In August Blueberries can usually be purchased in bulk at a good price. I buy 20-30 pounds, freeze them. Every morning I pop a serving of blueberries in the microwave for 30 seconds and add them to my cereal. I also use the frozen blueberries as a snack during the winter months. Another great idea is to buy Clementine’s and peppers and use them for my snacks.
3. Select whole grains whenever possible. Purchase whole grain breads, pastas, brown or wild rice. When using flour use whole wheat flour, even in cooking.
4. Beans are the magical or miracle food! Go vegetarian once a week and make a meatless chili or add black beans to your salads throughout the week. Make a pot of baked beans. Just be careful of portion sizes when it comes to beans and starchy vegetables. You can pack in a lot of calories if you over portion.
5. Add seeds and nuts. These make great snacks or are nice on salads. Nuts and seeds can even be chopped or ground and added to baked goods to increase the fiber content.
Try my special Brussels sprouts recipe to add some fiber to your diet. My son, the one that asked Santa for a loaf of white bread, called me from college one day and asked me for my Brussels sprout recipe … that warms a dietitian’s heart!
Martha’s Carmelized Brussels Sprouts
De-stem the Brussels sprouts by cutting off the end. Wash and remove outer leaves if necessary. Slice each Brussels sprout thinly (yes, this takes time but it is worth it!). Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir and then add the Brussels sprouts. Cover and steam for 5-8 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 5 minutes. The Brussels sprouts will begin to sear and darken on the edges. The natural sugar in the Brussels sprouts will carmelize and will produce a “nutty” flavor.