New Year’s Resolutions: Eat More Fiber!

Happy New Year! Did you make any New Year’s resolutions for 2018? As a gastroenterologist, I can’t help but notice that most people do not resolve to improve their digestive health. Good digestive health is key to your overall good health. I challenge you to start off 2018 with this simple dietary resolution: eat more fiber! There are many benefits of a high fiber diet, including weight loss.

Benefits of a high fiber diet

Experts estimate that most Americans get only about half of the fiber they need. However, there are very important reasons why they should strive to get more fiber in their diet:

  • Fiber helps maintain normal bowel movements and relieves constipation.
  • Fiber may lower your risk for heart disease by lowering cholesterol.
  • Fiber helps control blood sugar levels.
  • Fiber aids in weight loss.

We are still not sure if a high fiber diet can reduce your risk of colon cancer. The research is mixed. A recent study failed to reveal a reduction in colon cancer. However, previous smaller studies concluded otherwise. We are watching the research closely.

A word of caution here. For certain people, a high fiber diet is not recommended. If you have any health conditions or diseases, please talk with your doctor before making changes to your diet.

How fiber helps with weight loss

People who eat more fiber seem to have better success with losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight. I encourage patients who want to lose weight to add fiber and also reduce calories. Generally, foods that are good sources of fiber are lower in fat and calories.

A high fiber diet helps people to feel full without the extra calories. When the stomach feels full, receptors are stimulated that tell the brain to stop eating.

Sources of fiber

Fiber is a carbohydrate that can’t be digested. Fiber comes from plants. There are two types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps control cholesterol and glucose levels. Insoluble fiber promotes movement of material through the digestive system. We need both types.

There are many good sources of fiber. Here are a few ideas:

Vegetables: Green peas, broccoli, corn, carrots, potatoes

Fruits: Pears, apples, oranges, berries

Legumes: Kidney beans, black beans, lima beans

Nuts: Almonds, peanuts, pistachios (keep in mind that nuts are calorie-dense, so eat in small quantities)

Whole grains: Oatmeal and oat bran, wheat bran, whole wheat flour, brown rice

A quick internet search will provide many additional food choices and ideas. For starters, see this Mayo Clinic link.

Tips for beginning a high fiber diet

Aim for about 30 grams of fiber a day. The exact requirement depends on your age as well as gender. Men under age 50 need about 38 grams of fiber a day; those over 50 need 30 grams. Women under age 50 need about 25 grams of fiber a day; those over 50 need 21 grams.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Gradually add fiber: Some people experience gas and bloating when they begin a high fiber diet. The best approach is to gradually add fiber…..take a few weeks to build up to the required amount.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Aim for 5: Eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Substitute: Brown rice for white rice, whole wheat bread for white bread, whole wheat pasta for white pasta, and/or high fiber cereal (with wheat bran or oat bran) for a low fiber cereal.
  • Supplements if needed: Food sources are the best source. However, if you are unable to get enough fiber through food, there are fiber supplements available. Popular brands include Metamucil and Citrucel. Be aware that some supplements contain sugar. You may want to choose a sugar-free product. You can look for generic brands which usually are less expensive.

The providers at Richmond Gastroenterology treat all types of digestive conditions.  Contact us to schedule an appointment.

Disclaimer: This blog article is intended to be informative and is not medical advice.