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Fiber and Heart Disease Prevention

Why is fiber important?
Fiber does many things to keep the body healthy. It aids in weight loss, regulates blood sugar, prevents constipation, reduces inflammation, lowers cholesterol and may decrease the risk for colorectal cancer. Fiber also reduces the risk for metabolic syndrome, heart disease, diabetes and diverticulitis.

What is fiber?
Fiber is a “super nutrient.” Also known as “roughage” or “bulk,” fiber is mostly found in
foods of plant origin, such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and whole-grain foods. There are two types of fiber:

  •  Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. This type of fiber can lower cholesterol and  glucose levels. Good sources include apples, pears, blueberries, peas, beans, oats, barley and psyllium.
  • Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through the digestive system, increases stool bulk and helps prevent constipation. Good sources include whole wheat bread, whole grain cereal, wheat bran, nuts, celery, carrots, cucumbers and many vegetables.

How much do I need?
Current guidelines suggest children and adults consume at least 20 grams of fiber daily from food (not from supplements). The more calories consumed, the more fiber needed. Teenagers and men may require 35 grams or more per day. The average American eats about 15 grams of fiber daily.

Fitting in the fiber
High-fiber foods are good for you but should be added gradually over a period of a few weeks to avoid stomach discomfort. Drinking more water also is recommended when adding fiber to your diet. Follow these suggestions when increasing your fiber intake:

  • Start the day with a high-fiber cereal
  • Replace fruit juice with whole fruits
  • Add crushed bran or unprocessed wheat bran to baked products, such as meatloaf, muffins and casseroles
  • Choose whole grain breads, pasta and rice
  • Snack on raw vegetables, nuts, fruit and low-fat popcorn
  • Eat the skin on potatoes
  • Add more beans to your diet
  • Read labels for fiber content and look for foods enriched with fiber, such as yogurt and snack bars

Should I take a fiber supplement?
It is best to obtain fiber naturally from foods because fiber supplements do not contain
vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. However, some people may need to take a
supplement if they cannot meet fiber requirements from the foods they eat. There are
many convenient supplements available. Talk to your doctor if you feel you need to take
fiber supplements.

Good sources of dietary fiber:

Food             Serving size     Grams of dietary fiber
Navy beans 1/2 cup 9.5
100% bran cold cereal 1/2 cup 8.8
Kidney beans, canned 1/2 cup 8.2
Split peas 1/2 cup 8.1
Lentils 1/2 cup 7.8
Black beans 1/2 cup 7.5
Pinto beans 1/2 cup 7.7
Lima beans       1/2 cup 6.6
Chickpeas 1/2 cup 6.3
Yankee (white) beans 1/2 cup 6.2
Shredded wheat cereal, plain 2 biscuits 5.5
Soybeans 1/2 cup 5.2
Sweet potato, baked with peel 1 medium (150 g) 4.8
Artichoke 1/2 cup 4.5
Asian pear Small 4.4
Green peas 1/2 cup 4.4
Potato, baked with skin 1 large (200 g) 4.4
Bulgur wheat 1/2 cup 4.1
Oatmeal 1/2 cup 4.0
Raspberries 1/2 cup 4.0
Blackberries 1/2 cup 3.8
Figs, dried 2 3.7
Dates   5 3.3
Pumpkin, canned 1/2 cup 3.5
Spinach, frozen (cooked) 1/2 cup 3.5
Almonds 1 oz. (24 nuts) 3.3
Apple with skin 138 g 3.3
Strawberries 1 cup 3.3
Brussels sprouts, frozen (cooked) 1/2 cup 3.2
Whole wheat spaghetti 1/2 cup 3.1
Banana 118 g 3.1
Orange 1 medium 3.1
Grits 1/2 cup 3.0
Sauerkraut, canned 1/2 cup 2.9
Winter squash 1/2 cup 2.9
Parsnips 1/2 cup 2.8
Raisins 1/2 cup 2.7
Collard greens 1/2 cup 2.7
Oat bran muffin 57 g 2.6
Broccoli 1/2 cup 2.6
Okra, frozen (cooked) 1/2 cup 2.6
Turnip greens 1/2 cup 2.5
Popcorn, air popped 2 cups 2.3
Peanut butter 2 tablespoons 2.0
Whole wheat bread 1 slice 1.9

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17

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