Assuming that the New Year's resolution to eat more foods with fiber didn't quite stick, how about using the half-year mark to reinvigorate that resolution?
After all, it's summer and the supermarkets and farmer's markets are brimming with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables.
In answer to the oft-heard question, "Why eat more fiber?" the Mayo Clinic website lays out the reasons quite plainly:
1. Fiber promotes the regularity of your bowel movements. It has properties that increase the bulk of your stool and soften it, making it easier to pass.
2. High-fiber diets appear to cut down on hemorrhoids and on diverticula, which are small sacs that poke out from your colon. Occasionally, those sacs became inflamed and turn into diverticulitis,which is a serious condition.
3. Fiber is good for your heart, with its ability to lower cholesterol levels. Also, there is good evidence that it can help normalize blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
4. It helps control blood sugar levels. Anyone worried about diabetes should eat more dietary fiber.
5. Fiber can help you lose weight. Foods with fiber not only take longer to chew -- giving your stomach time to get the signal that it's full -- but they also give you a feeling of satiety even in small portions.
A recent article in USA Today said that Americans, despite the many messages on fiber and the best intentions, are still eating less than half of the fiber that they should.
The average is a little more than a cup of vegetables a day and a little more than half a cup of fruit, according to polling data cited in the article.
Instead, if your diet is based on 2,000 calories a day, adults should be aiming for 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit. For someone consuming about 1,400 calories a day, the goal is 1 1/2 cups each of fruits and vegetables.
Another way to look at it is this. Recommendations are for at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day for women, and 30 to 38 grams a day for men.
Scientific studies on the benefits of fiber abound. But, before you charge into the supermarket produce section, it's good to learn about the two main types of fiber -- insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble fiber refers to the type that doesn't dissolve in water and it adds bulk to your stool.
Examples of insoluble fiber include whole wheat flour, wheat bran and most raw vegetables. You can find some insoluble fiber in unpeeled apples, berries, cherries, grapes and melons, to name a few.
Soluble fiber breaks down in water and passes through the system as a gel-like material. It's especially helpful with controlling cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium are all good sources, the Mayo Clinic said.
Many items from the produce aisle boast both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Although there isn't any surefire formula for how to balance soluble with insoluble fiber, experts say the main thing is to eat a variety of each kind. For instance, balance fruit with whole wheat bread.
As you heighten your resolve to eat the recommended servings of fiber per day, keep in mind that your body might need to transition into a high-fiber diet. Don’t overdo it with a day of just watermelon and bran cereal.
The Mayo Clinic suggested gradual increases of dietary fiber over the course of a few weeks, until you get to the recommended amounts. Otherwise, you risk intestinal gas, cramping and bloating.
While you are it, make sure you are drinking plenty of water, as some fiber needs to absorb water to have its effect on your digestive system.
Summertime blueberries (4 grams of fiber per cup), corn on the cob (2 grams per small ear), peaches (3 grams per large peach) ... it's all good.
"Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet." Mayo Clinic. Web. 16 July 2012.
"Self Nutrition Data: Know What You Eat." Self Magazine. Web. 16 July 2012.
Hellmich, Nanci. "Americans need to try harder to eat fruits, vegetables." USA Today. Web. 16 July 2012.
"High-fiber foods." Mayo Clinic. Web. 16 July 2012.
Reviewed on July 17, 2012
by Maryann Gromisch, RN
Edited by Jody Smith