Extension News

Bulk up on Fiber

4/2/2010

AMES, Iowa – Eating a little more fiber could make a big difference in Iowans’ health, said Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University assistant professor and ISU Extension nutrition specialist.

“Getting the health benefit doesn’t mean just eating oatmeal and bran flakes, although they’re both good sources of fiber. You have a lot of options, which make it easier to eat more fiber,” Francis said.

Many adults come up short on fiber. The average American eats 10 to 14 grams of fiber daily; however, the recommended intake is 20 to 30 grams every day. Children don’t need as much. To calculate how many grams of fiber a child needs, add five to the child’s age in years. For example, an 8-year-old child needs 13 grams of fiber per day (8 + 5 = 13), Francis explained.

Why Fiber Is Important
Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of a plant and is available in two forms, Francis said. Soluble fiber has a high water-holding capacity; oatmeal is an example. Insoluble fiber is not digestible and is the type found in dry beans. Both are necessary for a healthy diet.

“Eating a high fiber diet reduces your risk of death from a heart attack,” Francis said. “It also lowers total cholesterol, helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and keeps your intestines working properly. Eating enough fiber also helps you feel less hungry.”

Make Simple Changes
Increasing your fiber intake doesn’t mean drastic changes, Francis continued. Simple changes add up and can improve overall health.

  • Choose fiber-rich foods, such as whole grain bread (3g fiber), brown rice (3g fiber), whole wheat pasta (6g fiber), fruits and vegetables (2-3g fiber), whole grain cereals (5-14g fiber) and dry beans (7g fiber).
  • Start slowly. “Try to mix your standard choices with the higher fiber ones. As your taste buds adjust, increase the amount of high fiber foods. Gradually work your way to 20 to 30 grams. This will help lessen the side effects associated with high fiber diets, such as stomach discomfort,” Francis said.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep things running smoothly.

“If you are thinking about using a fiber supplement to meet the goal of 20 to 30 grams daily, talk with your health care provider first,” Francis cautioned. Supplements only provide fiber, not the other compounds found in high fiber foods, like vitamins. They also have a higher rate of side effects, such as stomach discomfort, and can decrease mineral absorption.

Francis offers the following example of how small changes can help an adult meet the goal of 20-30 grams of fiber daily.

  • Breakfast:  3/4 cup bran flakes, 1 cup skim milk, 1 banana, 1/2 cup berries = 9 grams
  • Lunch: 2 slices whole wheat bread, 2 ounces fat free turkey, 1 tomato, 2 lettuce leaves, 1 apple = 11 grams
  • Dinner: 1 whole wheat tortilla, 1/2 cup black beans, 1/2 cup cooked peppers, onions and tomatoes = 12 grams
    TOTAL DAY’S FIBER:  32 grams

For more information on nutrition and health or to receive a weekly e-mail from ISU Extension including a food, recipe and activity of the week, visit www.extension.iastate.edu/healthnutrition.

The Live Healthy Iowa 100-Day Challenge continues through April 23. This team-based weight loss and physical activity program helps Iowans make positive changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle.  For more information visit www.LiveHealthyIowa.org. Live Healthy Iowa is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Sports Foundation and ISU Extension.

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Contacts :
Sarah L. Francis, Food Science and Human Nutrition, (515) 294-1456, slfranci@iastate.edu

Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, lsternwe@iastate.edu