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The Benefits of Fiber

Por Lic. Nina Nazor Robles* -
The Benefits of Fiber

The fiber content in food has become a hot topic in the world of health and diets. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends an intake of 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. But what exactly is fiber?

Fiber is the undigested part of food. It fulfills various functions in our body, depending on whether it is soluble or insoluble.

Soluble fiber

This fiber usually forms a gel that absorbs water inside the intestines and reduces its evacuation time. Food containing this kind of fiber also lowers high-cholesterol levels in the blood and slows down the absorption of food-derived glucose, which helps control the blood sugar levels in diabetics. Soluble fiber consists of gums, mucilage, and pectin. It is found in all legumes (lentils, chickpeas, broad beans, and beans), in oat bran, and in some fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, and carrots.

Insoluble fiber

Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, speeds up the passage of feces through the intestines and increases the frequency of bowel movements. This helps prevent constipation. Found in whole-grain cereals and most vegetables and fruits, this type of fiber consists of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Scientists believe this type of fiber also helps prevent certain types of cancer, particularly colon cancer. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grain cereals provide the best sources of fiber. All food of plant origin contains both kinds of fiber, although some are particularly rich in one kind rather than the other.

The benefits of soluble fiber

Soluble fiber has two benefits. Research shows that food rich in soluble fiber can help control the blood sugar levels of diabetics by slowing down their glucose-absorption rate. Studies have also concluded that soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol levels in the blood and therefore slow down the formation of cholesterol-containing plaques (atheroma) within the arteries.

Prickly pears, whole oats and beans

Three foods have particularly high contents of soluble fiber: prickly pears (nopales), legumes, and whole oats:

Prickly pears: Known and used by natives of Mexico since ancient times and one of Mexico's national symbols, the prickly pear has made a comeback as a highly recommended health food that has a high soluble-fiber content. You can use the prickly pair in a variety of dishes. You can eat it raw in salads, cook it alone, or combine it with other foods like eggs, peppers, poultry, and seafood. You can also add it to soup.

Legumes:Many people also eat legumes for their nutritional value. Legumes include all kinds of plants with pods, such as split peas, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, and broad beans. Humans have cultivated legumes for thousands of years. In many parts of Latin America everyone eats beans, and when combined with corn, they form the staple of most of the populations' diet. Although they provide an excellent source of protein in some countries, they do not contain ideal quantities of all the essential amino acids (the protein parts that the human body cannot produce) needed for developing muscle tissues and organs and keeping them healthy. This is why you should eat legumes with cereals like corn, wheat, or rice. For example, prepare a bean taco, a dish of rice with lentils, or a bowl of chickpeas with bread.

Whole oats:In whole oats, the bran or husk of this wonderful cereal (which has been eaten since ancient times) contains a large amount of soluble fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol and the absorption of sugar in the blood just like prickly pears and beans do. Unfortunately, oat flakes have had their bran and consequently a large portion of their soluble-fiber content removed. If we want to increase our soluble fiber intake, we need to eat whole oats or oat bran.

Recommendations

Eating too much fiber (over 50 or 60 grams a day) interferes with the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. It would be difficult to consume such large amounts of fiber without suffering great discomfort. However, most of us tend not to eat enough fiber.
To increase your fiber intake, follow these recommendations:
· Eat 3 to 5 servings of vegetables, 2 to 4 servings of fruit, and 6 to 11 servings of grains, cereals, pasta or rice daily.
· Eat legumes daily, if at all possible. Make soups using beans, lentils, chickpeas or peas.
· Drink 8 glasses of water a day.
· Opt for the whole fruit rather than just the juice.
· Add legumes, grains, vegetables, and fruit to your soups, salads, and stews.
· Between meals, eat snacks with high-fiber contents like fresh fruits and vegetables.
· Use breakfast as an opportunity to eat foods with high fiber content like fruits and whole oats.
· Eat raw fruits and vegetables. Eat the skin as well.
· Choose the whole-grain varieties when you eat oats, bread, rice, crackers, or pastas.
The food we eat can make or break our health. Take advantage of the benefits we can obtain from eating healthy meals with naturally fresh food.

*Dietitian with the MyDiet™ Team

 

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