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Natural Awakenings of the Coastal Carolinas

Fantastic Fiber

by Kay Dobis

As a nutritionist, I’m often asked, “What is the most important piece of advice you can give me about nutrition?" Well, that’s a pretty broad question, and I’m a firm believer in individuality when it comes to nutritional requirements. However, the more we learn about fiber, the more I believe this is one type of food that most everyone benefits from, whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, paleo, or omnivorous. And based on the clients I see, most of us are not getting enough in our daily diet. In fact, by most estimates, the average American is consuming less than half the daily recommended amount.

Fiber is the mostly indigestible portion of plants and is usually classified as soluble or insoluble. Most nutrients begin to be digested in the stomach and small intestine, but fiber remains pretty much intact until it reaches the large intestine. There it’s transformed by some of the more than 100 trillion bacteria living in our bodies. Soluble fiber turns excess water in the digestive tract to gel and slows it down, so it can be helpful in the prevention of diarrhea. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and helps it move through more quickly, preventing constipation.

Doctors recommend fiber to prevent GI disorders like diverticulitis, and increasing fiber intake has been shown to reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Most foods have some amount of both types of fiber; for example, beans generally have a ratio of about one gram of soluble to three grams of insoluble fiber. The easiest way to make sure you’re getting enough of both kinds is to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes, and healthy whole grains like quinoa and brown rice. Increasing dietary intake of fiber has been shown to promote weight loss and reduce blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk for Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke. 

The daily requirement for fiber is a minimum goal of 25g per day for women and 38g per day for men. Apps like CRONO-meter and My Fitness Pal can help you track your daily intake. A number of fiber supplements are also available, but obtaining your fiber from food sources allows you to benefit from the other nutrients found in fiber-rich foods.

Lentils are one of the best sources of fiber and a good vegetarian source of protein. A simple way to eat lentils is as a salsa or salad. Mix cooked and cooled lentils with chopped tomato, cucumbers, red onion, and jalapeno. Add some fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice, a pinch 
of salt, and chopped cilantro or parsley. You can cook the lentils yourself or use precooked lentils found in the produce department in most grocery stores. 

Kay Dobis, MS, CNS, is a nutritionist in Myrtle Beach specializing in helping people with chronic disease heal themselves through the power of food and lifestyle changes.



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