February is American Heart Month and since heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women, we wanted to take a closer look at one nutrient in particular that can help lower your risk of heart disease. We’ve all heard of fiber and that we should eat more of it, but it can be difficult and overwhelming when navigating the grocery store looking for it. We’ll break down basic fiber facts, our daily needs, and special considerations.
Fiber is the indigestible part of plants and has many benefits including prolonging satiety due to our bodies attempting to digest the fiber. Other benefits include lowering cholesterol by ridding plaque from our arteries, keeping our bowels regular, controlling blood sugar and thereby, preventing chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
For adults, we all should try to get in 25-35 grams of fiber per day ideally from whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and whole grains. This can be difficult if we aren’t consciously planning meals and snacks and tend to grab food to go often or rely on processed foods to try and fill us up. An important note to keep in mind is to gradually increase your fiber intake each day as to minimize discomfort on your GI tract. Additionally, make sure to drink plenty of water as well to help flush all the fiber out of our bodies.
Keep It Simple
Label reading isn’t necessary if you try to incorporate more vegetables and fruits into your diet. However, if you’re selecting grains like crackers or breads, navigating the grocery aisle for whole grains can be difficult.
Watch out for synthetic fibers that are utilized in products to boost their fiber content, as well as their appeal to consumers. These isolated or “fake” fibers are indicated by words like chicory root extract, inulin, soy fiber, maltodextrin, as a few examples. While these fibers allow companies to label products with more fiber, they do not provide the same benefits as whole grains and shouldn’t be counted towards your daily goals.
While you could look at the dietary fiber listed on the nutrition facts and select products with at least 3-5 grams per serving, keeping in mind those isolated or fake fibers, the best thing you can do to make sure you are getting whole grains and the most fiber is to read the ingredient list. Ideally, the first ingredient is either whole grain or whole wheat flour rather than enriched, processed, bleached/unbleached, bromated or wheat flour. All of which indicate refined grains.
Best Fiber Sources
While this may not be super exciting, the best foods that provide the most fiber with the lowest calories are vegetables.
For 3 grams for just 35 calories, here are some of the best veggies with the most fiber:
Sneak Fiber into your Diet
Don’t feel guilty about having a little after dinner dessert of fresh berries. You’ll be satisfying your sweet tooth with the natural fruit sugars and getting some much-needed fiber in for the day. Drizzle with a little dark chocolate or even dollop with a spoon or two of Reddi Whip and it feels like a decadent treat.
Sneak some veggies into your comfort food dishes this winter by replacing high calorie, starchy lasagna noodles with sliced eggplant, zucchini, or squash. Make a homemade mac ‘n cheese with whole grain pasta and chopped steamed cauliflower or broccoli.
Sprinkle spoonfuls of chia or flax seeds into your morning smoothie, oatmeal, or on top of salads to boost the fiber content and add different textures to your salads.