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Focus on Fiber

Are you getting enough fiber? If so, you are in the minority as several studies have indicated that as many as 86% of Americans do not include enough fiber in their diets. The American Dietetic Association's has stated that when populations consume more dietary fiber, their chronic disease levels are lower.  They recommend consumption of 14 grams of dietary fiber per 1,000 calories, or 25 grams per day for adult women and 38 grams per day for adult men. Unfortunately, the average daily intake of dietary fiber in the United States is only 14 grams per day. Dietary fiber is found in plant foods and has two main components:  soluble fiber fiber that is easily converted into gases and physiologically active byproducts, and insoluble fiber that is metabolically inert, absorbing water as it moves through the digestive system.  Both soluble and insoluble fiber are necessary for a healthy dietary regimen. It's definitely worth the effort to include fiber in your daily diet! New research indicates that middle-age and younger adults who include high amounts of fiber in their diets are less likely to suffer from heart disease over their entire lives. Additional findings show that high-fiber diets lead to lower rates of high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol. Many other benefits are derived from a fiber-rich nutritional regimen:
  • Lower blood cholesterol levels -  eating soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or "bad" cholesterol levels.
  • Reduce blood pressure and inflammation - dietary fiber supports heart health.
  • Control blood sugar levels - fiber slows sugar absorption, which improves blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Promote weight loss - a high-fiber meal is filling, lasts longer and is comparatively low in calories for the same size serving.
  • Maintain regularity.
Research by the Archives of Internal Medicine conducted in February, 2001 included 388,000 adults ages 50 to 71 and concluded that consuming the recommended amount of dietary fiber can extend life by up to 9 years in addition to lowering the risk of death from heart disease. It also reduces the incidence of infectious and respiratory illness.  It has also been shown to lower the risk of certain cancers, particularly among males. Are you reaching for the fiber yet? Foods rich in fiber include whole grain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, legumes and almonds. You can increase the amount of fiber you consume easily with some simple adjustments to your current nutritional regimen.
  • Eat whole grains. Look for breads that list whole grains as the first ingredient on the label and offer at least 2 grams of dietary fiber (a)per serving. Switch to brown rice and whole-wheat pasta.
  • Add extra fiber when you bake. Substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour when baking. Its important to note that whole-grain flour is heavier than white flour so increase required baking powder by 1 teaspoon for every 3 cups of whole grain flour.  Try adding crushed bran cereal or unprocessed wheat bran to muffins, cakes and cookies.
  • Eat your veggies. Add vegetables to soups and sauces. Refresh that old faithful soup, stew or cassoulet with some vegetables.
  • Eat more beans. Go for a hearty bean soup on a cold day or try a side of refried black bean dip with quacamole, lots of fresh veggies and whole-wheat tortilla chips.
  • Eat fruit. Apples, bananas, oranges, pears and berries are good sources of fiber.  Skip the orange juice and eat an orange with breakfast --  it's higher in fiber!
  • Look for the fiber content of foods on the nutrition labels. A high-fiber food has 5 grams or more of fiber per serving, a good source provides 2.5 to 4.9 grams per serving.
High-fiber foods are necessary for your health, but adding too much, too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fiber in your diet gradually over a period of a few weeks, that allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change. Also, drink plenty of water, fiber works best when it absorbs water.

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