You may be aware that one of the many guideposts to a healthy diet includes eating ample dietary fiber every day. But do you know your way around the different types of fibers in foods or how to count fiber in your meal plan.
Fibers, considered a nutrient in foods, are defined as sources of carbohydrate in plant-based foods that are not completely digestible by the body. Good sources of dietary fiber may include whole grains (though not all contain fiber), beans and peas (also called legumes), fruits, vegetables and nuts.
Foods that contain fiber actually contain more than one type of fiber. Many fiber-rich foods often contain both soluble and insoluble fibers, the two main types of this nutrient.
Insoluble fibers are in many vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. We tend to associate fiber in foods with regularity, having regular bowel movements, and decreasing constipation. Insoluble fibers provide this health benefit. Another potential benefit, if you eat enough of it, may be to speed the elimination of unhealthy substances through the digestive tract.
Soluble fibers appear in many legumes, vegetables, fruits and whole grains, including oatmeal, and slow down the time it takes to move food through the digestive tract. This action, if you eat enough of it, may lead to a slight reduction in cholesterol levels, especially those of bad cholesterol (LDLs).
Foods, fiber and carbohydrate
Fibers are found mainly in foods that contain healthful sources of carbohydrate, namely vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. The American Diabetes Association encourages adults living with diabetes to “consume at least the amount of fiber [and whole grains] recommended for the general public.” The Association further recommends “when choosing carbohydrate containing foods, choose, nutrient-dense, high-fiber foods whenever possible …”
In other words, try to limit the sources of carbohydrate that are refined, meaning they’ve been stripped of fiber and whole grains, and are filled with added fats and sugars. Examples of refined carbohydrates include pastries, cakes and cookies, white breads and pastas.
Fiber by the numbers
Nutrition experts have identified fiber as a nutrient for concern because we don’t eat enough of it. It’s estimated that on average, most Americans may eat only half the recommended amount of fiber daily.
The American Diabetes Association recommends 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. If you eat less than 2,000 calories a day, you can use the guideline of 14 grams per 1,000 calories. (According to the Association’s nutrition recommendations, it’s not necessary for most people living with diabetes to subtract the amount of dietary fiber from their carbohydrate counts.)
Find foods’ fiber counts
Foods with the facts: You’ll find the grams of dietary fiber on the nutrition facts label of most packaged foods. Use these counts to learn about the fiber content of foods. Use the counts to compare the fiber content of breads, cereals, grains, pastas and other fiber-containing packaged foods.
Foods in the supermarket without the facts: With a few clicks, get the fiber counts for foods without nutrition facts labels from a resource such as the USDA’s National Nutrient Database.
Restaurant foods: Today, more restaurants than ever are spilling the beans about the nutrition facts of their foods. This includes fiber counts. If you frequent a few chain restaurants, go to the nutrition information on the restaurant’s website or search in a nutrient database.
Six steps to eat your fill of fiber
To ratchet up your fiber count, don’t eat more food. Instead, switch out low-fiber foods for higher-fiber options. Start with these suggestions:
1. Choose brown rather than white rice, or whole-grain pasta instead of white.
2. Select whole-grain breads or rolls. Look for counts of 3 grams of fiber per serving.
3. Opt for barley, whole-wheat couscous, quinoa or millet instead of potatoes or a refined grain.
4. Stock beans and peas whether dry, canned or frozen. Have them at the ready for adding to salads, soups and casserole dishes.
5. Get your fill of fruits and vegetables whether they’re raw or cooked, fresh, canned or frozen. Aim to eat at least 2½ cups per day of each.
Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE*, is the author of several best-selling books published by the American Diabetes Association, including Eat Out, Eat Well – The Guide to Eating Healthy in Any Restaurant and Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy. She’s a frequent contributor to Diabetic Living magazine. Warshaw is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.