Fiber: The unsung hero in weight management, digestion and lowering cholesterol
Add these fiber rich foods to your diet to improve overall health
You’ve most likely heard including fiber in your diet is good for you. But do you know why?
Dietary fiber is a plant-based carbohydrate that cannot be digested, explains Chloe Paddison, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and education specialist at St. Joseph’s/Candler. Fiber is found in the majority of unrefined plant foods including vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains. Animal products contain no fiber.
Related Article: Is a vegetarian diet better for you?
Fiber cannot be broken down into sugar by the body. Paddison likes to describe fiber as a “street sweeper”, brushing out the intestines to promote digestive health, cardiovascular health and cancer prevention.
“Fiber acts to slow the rate of digestion, slowing the rate of sugar being absorbed into the bloodstream, and as a result, it helps stabilize blood sugar preventing spikes and drops throughout the day,” Paddison says.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble dissolves in water. As soluble fiber moves through the digestive system it is fermented by bacteria and absorbs water, creating a gel-like substance. Soluble fiber is the best source for decreasing cholesterol and supporting healthy digestion and immune health.
- Insoluble does not dissolve in water. It travels through the digestive tract unchanged, but is also fermented by the bacteria in the gut. Insoluble fiber promotes regular bowel movements and contributes to the bulk of stool while maintaining the pH in the intestines.
The recommendation for daily fiber intake is 25 to 35 grams. Paddison recommends tracking fiber intake through an app, such as MyFitnessPal, or counting fiber on labels. Dietary fiber is listed under carbohydrates; however, Paddison points out that carb counters do not necessarily need to include fiber in their total carb intake because it does not digest into sugar.
Some people have difficulty tolerating fiber. Supplements are available and easier to digest. However, food is the best source of fiber.
Related Article: Ten ways parents can get their kids to eat more fruits and veggies
Benefits of fiber
There are many benefits to a fiber-rich diet. Paddison specifically points out three: weight management, healthy digestion and lowering cholesterol.
“I am so big on promoting the consumption of fiber-based foods because it helps so many things,” Paddison says. “I say it’s an unsung hero for weight management, lowering cholesterol and all kinds of stuff.”
Fiber aids in weight management because it slows down digestion, Paddison says. The body has to work harder to separate fiber from other components of food, slowing the rate of digestion and keeping blood sugar stabilized. This also helps you feel full longer, therefore less likely to overeat and have less cravings or untimely hunger in between meals.
Fiber additionally helps keep our digestion regular. Insoluble fiber, in particularly, helps bulk up stool and move it through our system. Fiber also helps feed healthy bacteria in our gut known as probiotics.
Soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol because when you consume it the fiber pulls cholesterol out of the blood stream and takes it into the liver. The cholesterol is then turned into bile to digest food. Paddison says that has an immediate effect of lowering LDL (or bad) cholesterol.
Sources of soluble fiber include:
- Most vegetables
- Sweet potato
- Dried figs
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Psyllium husks
Sources of insoluble fiber include:
- Bran cereals
- Most whole grains
- Vegetables such as corn and okra
Paddison advises clients to be smart about their food behaviors. Regardless of how healthy you may think you eat, those that skip meals or only eat once or twice a day not only are not getting enough fiber but also are missing out on the bounty of other vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants that are beneficial to our health.
“To increase fiber intake, it is important to make sure you are eating three meals and two to three snacks daily.”
Quiz: How much do you know about fiber?
Example meal plan
Paddison offers this example meal plan that includes around 1,700 calories and about 30 to 35 grams of fiber:
Breakfast: ½ cup dry rolled oats, cooked in one cup of FairLife Milk (2 percent), add 1/3 cup fresh or frozen blackberries and ¼ cup chopped walnuts (480 calories, 9 grams fiber)
Snack: 1 brown rice cake with ½ small avocado smashed on top plus garlic powder to taste (177 calories, 6 grams of fiber)
Lunch: Southwestern salad (558 calories, 18.8 grams fiber):
* 2 cups mixed greens of choice
* 1/3 cup black beans, thoroughly rinsed
* ½ medium bell pepper, chopped
* 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
* ½ avocado, diced (other half from snack earlier)
* 1 tablespoon shredded cheddar cheese
* Fresh lime juice to taste plus 1 teaspoon of olive oil
Snack: 1 bag Skinny Pop popcorn (100 calories, 2 grams fiber)
Dinner: 1 cup chicken salad (optional to make it with some chopped nuts, celery and quartered grapes or cranberries) plus ½ 100 percent whole wheat pita pocket with 1 serving of Mango Harvest Wild Rice from Nutrition Stripped (around 385 calories, 5 grams fiber)
Attention City of Savannah Employees: Your insurance allows for up to four hours of free dietary counseling sessions per year. Call 912-819-6146 for more details.
Coming in June and July: Chloe will be teaching two Lifestyle Lab classes on general digestive health. Details:
What: Explore the basics of improving digestive health for weight management and other specific disease states such as diabetes, obesity, IBS and high cholesterol. This lecture will provide you with information on pre/probiotics, fiber and how your lifestyle can affect digestion.
When: 5:30 p.m., June 18 and July 16
Where: Wellness Center Conference Room, Candler Hospital, 5353 Reynolds Street, Savannah
Cost: Free for any weight management, WellPath or GoStrong program participants; $5 for Wellness Center members; $10 for non-members