What is fiber?
- Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion, which slows your digestion. You can get soluble fiber from foods such as oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. You can also get soluble fiber from psyllium, a common fiber supplement.
- Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. It adds bulk to the stool and appears to help food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines.
Four key benefits of fiber
- Fiber lowers heart disease risks. According to one 2013 study, adding fiber to your diet can lower your risk for heart disease. The study looked at both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, and how they affected coronary heart disease – plaque buildup in the heart's arteries that could lead to a heart attack – and cardiovascular disease – heart and blood vessel conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Researchers found those who consumed more fiber reduced their risks from either type of heart disease. Although the recommended amount of dietary fiber is still 20 to 35 grams per day, the researchers concluded that even adding as little as seven grams of fiber to a daily diet boosts heart health. You can get that much fiber from eating a pear or a large bowl of oatmeal.
- Fiber reduces type 2 diabetes. Soluble fiber can also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In people who have diabetes (type 1 and 2), soluble fiber can help to control blood glucose levels.
- Fiber relieves digestive problems. Insoluble fiber in your diet can help with such digestive tract problems as fecal incontinence, constipation, chronic diarrhea, and hemorrhoids.
- Fiber eases bowl movements. More than any other benefit, fiber is known for its ability to bulk stools while making them softer and therefore easier to pass.
How to get fiber in your diet
You may be surprised at what foods do or do not contain much fiber. Take out the mystery by studying the Fiber Chart offered online by Mount Sinai Health Systems. The chart allows you to see the fiber count of hundreds of common foods and compare their fiber content.
High fiber recipes
1. AllRecipes.comAt AllRecipes.com, you'll find more than 2,000 recipes classified as high-fiber. Good ones to try first:
- Quinoa and Black Beans
- Refried Beans Without the Refry
- Irish Chicken and Dumplings
- Moroccan-Style Stuffed Acorn Squash
2. Mayo ClinicThough the high-fiber recipe collection at Mayo Clinic is not nearly as robust as AllRecipes’, the Mayo Clinic recipe collection is a good place to start if you've got constipation issues, as these recipes are particularly high in fiber. Some good examples:
- In the appetizer category: Artichoke dip
- In the desert category: Baked apples with cherries and almonds
- In the main dish category: Yellow lentils with spinach and ginger
- In this side dish category: Classic Boston baked beans
3. Betty CrockerYou no doubt have a Betty Crocker cookbook in your home – an American staple for generations. On their website, you can filter for just high-fiber recipes. Some tasty samples to get you started:
- For a main course, try Shrimp, Sweet Corn and New Potato Boil or a Salsa Meat Loaf.
- Four high-fiber snacking between meals, look to their Fiber One® Graham Snack Mix recipe.
- Don't fudge on fiber for dessert. Instead, go for Fiber One® Crunchy Fudge Cookies recipe.
4. Food NetworkThe Food Network has created a dedicated fiber rich recipes section, with 600-plus recipes. Some of the more tantalizing fiber recipes include:
Dietary fiber risks
There are two risks worth noting. First, drink plenty of water, especially when consuming insoluble fiber. Fiber without sufficient water intake can cause severe constipation. Second, be cautious with taking supplements, drugs, or laxatives to ease constipation. Even those labeled as "natural" have the risk of dependency. Continued use can fatigue the colon to the point that your body relies on the laxative to achieve bowel movements at all.