Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fiber Facts

First of all, what is fiber? Well, it's basically a type of carbohydrate that your body can't digest, which is a good thing. Like we said before, fiber is either soluble or insoluble. Both types of fiber offer health benefits that we really can't afford to do without; so both types are good sources of fiber for our bodies. Some sources of insoluble fiber include vegetables, fruit skins, whole-wheat products, and nuts. Some sources of soluble fiber inclue oats, dried beans, flax seed, nuts, oranges and apples, and vegetables like carrots. You can see that some foods give us both fibers in one, making the nutritional benefits double.

Some of the specific benefits of fiber include relieving constipation, lowering cholesterol, protecting against diabetes, assisting with weight loss, protecting against some types of cancer (colon, for example), preventing the formation of gallstones and kidney stones, and preventing heart disease. Pretty cool, eh? I am sure that we all know people, perhaps even in our own families, that struggle with at least one of these things.

So, how much fiber do you need? Well, women should get aroun 20-25 grams of fiber a day; men should get 30-35. On average, men and women get between 10 and 15 grams a day. So we get about half. Pretty frightening when you consider all of the health benefits we aren't receiving and, consequently, some of the things we are struggling with.

The good news is that if we are eating the recommended amounts of food that we see in the Food Guide Pyramid -- namely five servings of fruits and vegetables and six servings of whole grains a day -- we will easily get the amount of fiber we need -- both types of fiber -- and enjoy the health benefits.

So where do we go wrong? Well, fruit and vegetables can be really expensive, especially if you are feeding a large family. So the tendency is to skimp on these foods because they don't fit into our budgets. It's good to stay in your budget; however, maybe we should consider cutting out more of the processed foods on our shopping lists and fill in with more fresh foods. Or maybe you can get frozen or canned vegetables and fill in with less expensive fruits like bananas and apples. You can also look for sales -- grapes for $.98 a pound or watermelon for $.20 to $.28 a pound. If you measure out serving sizes and give you children bags that are theirs to eat for the day (not to mention yourself and your spouse), they'll likely eat the entire thing and be tickled that they got their OWN bag. Also, avoid processed fruits, including dried and fruit juice. You loose the sources of fiber (the skins with most fruit) and also your body absorbs and uses these things differently, so you lose the benefits of eating "fruit."

Another place people go wrong. If you notice, most foods are marked with words like "whole grains" or "whole wheat." But have you ever looked at the nutrition information on those foods? For example, I saw a loaf of 100% Whole Wheat Bread the other day that only had 1 g of fiber per slice. The number two ingredient in that bread was high fructose corn syrup. So be careful when you are looking at and buying bread, cereal, and other foods to look at the nutrition information and see what you are actually getting behind the words on the labels. Whenever possible, make things yourself so you know what is in the food and avoid anything processed.

With beans -- buy a bag of dried beans and make it up yourself, or else you can also buy cans of beans and use those instead of refried beans or other substitutes and cut out some of the fat and calories while still getting the fiber. Not to mention it will most likely be helpful on your budget.

Again -- add color, add color, add color. And cook for yourself and as a family. The benefits of that alone are more than any nutrition label could ever explain.


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