Government experts from the National Academy of Science recommend that most people consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day (some experts even suggest consuming up to a minimum of 37 grams per day). Zuckerbrot says, despite recommendations, "Women between the ages of 20 to 55 years old, on average, are only getting 56 percent of their recommended daily fiber." (Men are only getting 47 percent.)Fiber is a special type of carbohydrate found primarily in plant foods — fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fiber is indigestible, meaning it passes through the digestive system unchanged. However, it is essential for overall health. It helps reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease, lowers cholesterol, and may decrease the risk of some cancers, including colon, ovarian, and breast. Consuming adequate fiber has also been associated with a reduced risk of gall stones, kidney stones, and diverticular diseases.
"Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and I 100 percent believe that one of the reasons we are so hungry and eating more is because we've stripped the fiber content from food," says the nutrition expert. "Fiber keeps you feeling full for a long period of time, which means you are less likely to need to snack or overeat at the next meal."Not that snacking in general is bad, but according to Zuckerbrot, snacking contributes to one-fourth of Americans' daily caloric intake and that too often people choose snacks with minimal fiber. She continues, "Chips, cookies, crackers, sweetened beverages, and frozen desserts contain virtually no fiber. People who eat these foods to try to satisfy their appetites only find themselves hungry again soon after. Diets based on such refined foods create a vicious cycle of eating and hunger all day long."
Fiber-rich foods help with weight loss and maintenance of a healthy weight. And it's nice to know that a healthy weight is possible with foods that are high in a nutrient — as opposed to diets that leave out entire food groups. "So many diets fail because people focus on what they are cutting out. A high fiber diet is about what you're adding in," explains Zuckerbrot.Since fiber takes longer to digest compared to refined carbohydrates, it results in feeling full longer, which can curb consumption. Additionally, foods rich in fiber are usually lower in calories than refined foods and provide a bevy of other nutrients, including antioxidants. Zuckerbrot says, "My patients can't believe how full they feel! At the same time, they are losing weight."The fiber expert adds, "In a study conducted by David J Baer of the US Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center, researchers found that women who doubled their fiber intake from 12 to 24 grams per day cut their absorption by 90 calories a day!"What does that mean for the average woman? A 9.4 pound weight loss in a year. That may not seem like much for a year, but with the addition of exercise and making sure you are consuming a healthy, balanced diet, you could experience even greater weight loss. Research even suggests that people who have higher intakes of fiber tend to have healthier body weights.
According to Zuckerbrot, fiber promotes weight loss by acting like a sponge in your digestive tract, absorbing other molecules like carbs, fats, and sugars, along with all their calories - and preventing them from settling on your hips. She explains, "In one study, scientists determined that for every gram of fiber ingested, your body excretes an average of 7 calories in the stool. That means that if you consumed 35 grams of fiber in one day, you would excrete 245 calories in your stoolâ€”just by increasing your fiber intake!"
Getting enough fiber in your diet has never been so convenient or tasty.
Plant-based foods are typically high in fiber. Create meals based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes and seeds. Zuckerbrot says, "Some of my favorite sources of fiber are lentils, whole wheat spaghetti and pistachios."
Due to the recent focus on the health benefits of fiber, food manufacturers have responded with an increasing variety of foods high in fiber — and flavor. Zuckerbrot says, "There is now more variety then just foods which naturally contain fiber like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes." She recommends, in addition to naturally fiber-rich foods, seek out yogurts, cereals, chips, breads, pastas and even orange juice that now come loaded with fiber. "Fiber One yogurt is a good example, with 5 grams of fiber per cup and only 80 calories — a tasty way to get 20 percent of the Daily Recommended Value of fiber."
The nutrition expert also suggests simply adding a couple of grams of fiber to each meal as an easy and effective way to get consumers closer to their daily recommended intake and experiencing fiber's benefits.
Combining a variety of fiber-rich foods in a meal makes it even more convenient to reach your daily fiber needs. For example, Zuckerbrot recommends 1 cup of raspberries (8 grams of fiber), and one serving of Fiber One (14 grams of fiber). "If you have both with some milk for breakfast, you've achieved 22 grams of fiber through breakfast alone."
Zuckerbrot, who recently teamed up with Fiber One, suggests visiting Fiber One's Fiber Friend Face-Off to learn about other healthy and tasty fiber options. She says, "It's an interactive game online where you go up against a challenger and pick five foods to see if you can meet the 25 grams of fiber goal per day. It teaches you what foods contain fiber and what foods don't in a fun way. You can also enter to win coupons and prizes."
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