Filling Up on Fiber
You’ve probably heard it all before, and even seen all the television commercials telling you how to get enough fiber each day—eat this cereal, take that pill. You may end up wondering whether you can possibly eat what you need for your daily requirements. The answer is “yes.” You don’t need to take anything extra, because you get plenty of fiber in your diet by following a vegetarian eating plan.
What Is Fiber?
A type of carbohydrate, fiber is found in all plant foods, including whole grains and legumes, and is an indigestible carbohydrate. It occurs in two forms: insoluble fiber, which helps prevent constipation; and soluble fiber, which helps lower blood cholesterol levels. Women should eat about twenty grams of fiber each day; men, thirty-plus grams. Most Americans eat far less fiber each day than they should. If you are on a fiber-poor diet, add fiber slowly, and always drink plenty of water each day.
What Does Dietary Fiber Do?
Fiber plays several important roles in your health by adding the roughage, or bulk, that keeps your digestive tract working smoothly. Because your body cannot absorb or digest it, fiber also slows down the digestive process so that glucose gets absorbed more slowly, and that helps keep blood sugar levels stable and reduces the risks of obesity and certain cancers.
How to Slip Fiber into Your Diet
At the market, select fiber-rich foods; all plants contain fiber, but some, such as beans, potatoes, and apples, are richer sources than others. Then when possible, eat your fruits and vegetables unpeeled or whole. For example, if you give up your morning orange juice and eat the orange instead, you get two and a half grams of fiber instead of less than one gram from the juice. And eat the whole baked potato, skin and all.
Add bulk each day by choosing a big salad for lunch, and garnishing it with beans and maybe some cooked grains. For dinner, load up on two servings of vegetables, or fix a big vegetable stir-fry garnished with tofu and seasoned with your choice of Asian condiments.
When you buy sandwich breads, look for the whole-grain varieties and leave the white breads behind. Remember that the fiber has been processed out of white flours; one exception is the product known as “white whole wheat flour,” which has good baking qualities suitable for cakes and pastries.