Fiber is the indigestible portion of plant foods. Grandma used to call it roughage. Just like cholesterol is only found in animal foods, fiber is only found in plant foods. Fiber has a special role in heart disease prevention. Fiber can be classified as either soluble or insoluble, depending on its chemical properties. Most foods are a combination of both types, but often one type will predominate.
Soluble fiber is especially effective in lowering LDL cholesterol and in controlling blood glucose and insulin levels. The best sources of soluble fiber are legumes (beans and peas), oats and barley, apples, grapes, bananas, citrus fruits, carrots, potatoes, especially sweet potatoes and soybeans.
A diet high in insoluble fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer and possibly breast cancer. The best sources of insoluble fiber are wheat and corn bran, brown rice, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, pears, peaches, strawberries and other fruit with seeds.
Both types of fiber are important for proper bowel function and help relieve constipation and hemorrhoids. All fiber is helpful if you need to lose weight because it provides bulk without a lot of calories, which also helps you to feel full! Another important reason to include more fiber in your diet is that most high fiber foods contain antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent LDL, the bad cholesterol, from sticking to artery walls.
How much fiber do you need?
Thirty grams of total fiber is a reasonable amount. Try to make at least half of that soluble fiber in order to get the most benefit for your heart. The average American only eats 10-15 grams of total fiber per day because most diets are based on processed and refined foods that contain little fiber. The fiber content of foods is listed on the nutrition facts panel under carbohydrate.
It is very important as you begin to add more fiber to your diet that you do it gradually. This will help reduce the gas that often accompanies high fiber foods. Supplements such as Beano® are available which can help a lot with the gas. It is also important as you increase fiber to drink a lot of fluid. Fiber draws water from cells into your intestines, which is how it makes stools soft. You want to make sure you get enough fluid to replace that water and maintain your hydration. Try to drink eight to 10 cups of fluid each day, half should be water.