The Low-Down on Fiber

big bags of beans

By: Molly Hembree, RD, LD, Kroger Customer Connect

All hail fiber: the nutrient so many health professionals, media and even magazines say is the one part of our diets that we should always be working on. So, what is fiber all about? Where does it originate, how do we identify different types, how much should we be getting and why, and how can it fit nicely into our diets? Read along and increase your belief in the powers of fiber.

Dietary fiber enters our diet from plants only. That’s right: move aside meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. The reason we can only obtain fiber from fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains is that fiber is in the construction of the inside and outside of plant cell walls. These structures contain healthy, indigestible carbohydrates (fiber) that our small intestines cannot digest and absorb.

We hear that fiber is categorized by solubility, but did you know that characteristics like viscosity, physical weight of the fiber and how well a fiber is fermented are also significant? Soluble fibers themselves form a viscous gel and are fermented by our colon to help lower blood cholesterol. Insoluble [in water] fibers essentially pass through our digestive system untouched, helping things move right along and keeping our bathroom visits at a constant rate. Insoluble fibers may also have a hand in protecting us again colon cancer.

The classifications seem endless, from “resistant starches” in foods like bananas and Simple Truth Organic™ Pumpkin Seeds, which literally resist digestion, feed friendly gut bacteria (heard of prebiotics?), and may lower blood sugar, to “lignans” from foods such as Simple Truth™ Root Vegetable Chips (parsnips and sweet potatoes) and Simple Truth Organic™ Frozen Raspberries, which provide extra antioxidants and have “phytoestrogenic” effects to battle heart disease and some cancers. Then there are “beta-glucans,” common in barley and Simple Truth™ Oats, which boost immune function.

Current adult recommendations or “Adequate Intakes” for fiber are 25-38 grams per day. At present, most of us are only getting around 15 grams of fiber each day — which may be why we turn to health foods that specifically add fiber to their ingredients, or flock toward the fiber supplement aisle to fill that gap.

Let’s understand more about what this looks like on a nutrition label. Dietary Fiber, as well as Sugar, is a sub-category of Total Carbohydrates on a nutrition panel. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, fiber will be clearly broken down into its “Insoluble” and “Soluble” counterparts, but many times that’s left for you to figure out as it’s not mandatory per FDA (Food and Drug Administration) labeling rules. The “Daily Values” for fiber, expressed on a nutrition label, represent the percentage of a particular food’s serving that contributes to the goal of 25 grams daily fiber. Additionally, counting “net carbs” means the total grams of fiber (and sugar alcohols) are subtracted from the running total of carbohydrates to yield a number that shows more closely the grams of carbohydrates that will alter blood sugars. This may be effective for some, especially when it comes to breads, pastas and cereals, as it creates a clearer picture of whether the carbohydrates you’re ingesting are of the refined or whole-grain type.

Fiber helps us feel full by delaying movement through our GI tract. It also decreases the prevalence of high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes and even stroke. Fiber has been witnessed repeatedly to aid in weight control, thanks in large part to fiber’s presence in nutrient-dense, lower-calorie foods. Don’t overhaul your diet overnight if you’ve managed to fall short on fiber for a while. As much as a generous intake of fiber helps us out, it may do the opposite if we rapidly increase fiber without proportionally getting more fluids!

What does pumping up the fiber actually look like on our plates? The childhood rhyme beginning “Beans, beans, the wonderful fruit…” may be on to something. Legumes, in the form of beans, lentils, peanuts and fruits, add soluble fiber to our diets. Think of substituting hummus for ranch dip with Simple Truth Organic™ Broccoli Florets, trading up chicken noodle for soup made with Simple Truth™ Green Lentils, a larger focus on trail mixes when packing lunch, and investing in fruit like Simple Truth Organic™ Blueberries for dessert instead of pies and cakes. When it comes to vegetables, oats and grains, you can jazz up your salads by throwing in more color. Start your day with hot oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon, and opt for Simple Truth Organic™ Quinoa with herbs as a more regular side dish. Now, let’s get started!