Adding More Fiber to your Diet
~ May 2001 No.127 ~
The modern diet that contains many processed foods does not contain as much fiber as we need. That is why most dietary recommendations suggest getting more fiber into our diet. Dietary fiber serves many functions including preventing constipation and reducing blood cholesterol levels. United States health regulatory officials have recognized that fiber plays a role in the prevention of some types of cancer and, therefore, allow label claims if a product contains high enough levels of fiber. People who are watching their calorie intake also should be adding sources of fiber to their diet because, weight for weight, fiber has half the calories of fat.
Adding fiber to your diet can start in the grocery store. Bread labels should indicate that the product contains 100% whole wheat or else you are not getting as much fiber as you could be. Also, when buying bakery goods, whole wheat flour should be the first ingredient listed in the ingredient list. In North America, ingredients in foods are listed on food labels in order of their concentration in the food.
But besides looking at food labels to make sure that we are getting the highest sources of fiber in our food products, what else can we do? Eating raw or tender (not over cooked) vegetables is one way. The heat and humidity of the cooking process - either boiling, steaming or microwaving - often breaks down the fiber in food and therefore reduces its fiber content.
A second way to add fiber to the diet is to eat the skin or peel of fruits and vegetables when possible. Instead of throwing away this major source of fiber, fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed and then eaten, skin and all. Carrots, potatoes, apples, and peaches are examples of fruits and vegetables that can be eaten with their skin left on. Eating a potato with the skin on almost doubles your fiber intake compared to eating the peeled potato; eating apple skins can add about 40% more fiber. Leaving the skin on fruits and vegetables can both cut down on food preparation time and increase fiber intake.
Eating a variety of sources of fiber is best because research has shown that the health benefits of all fibers is not the same. Fiber is an often overlooked nutrient, even though it has a big impact on digestion and disease. Careful shopping and small changes in how food is processed can make a big difference on the amount of fiber we eat each day.
Food Fiber Contents archive file