By Marsha Hilgeford / The Courier-Journal
If only the current low-carbohydrate craze would give way to a fiber fixation, nutrition experts would be happier.
And Americans would be healthier, they say.
But bulking up fiber's reputation is about as difficult as selling the public on eating more barley - a half cup cooked has 6.8 grams of fiber, by the way.
While eating more fiber may be great advice, most people find it difficult to follow.
Foods high in fiber are harder to eat than those with lesser amounts. A burger can be eaten with one hand as we work or drive. Spinach salad, on the other hand, while a great source of fiber, takes some time and attention.
But diets high in fiber have stood the test of time and continue to be recommended by most health experts. Research suggests that fiber may prevent heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer and obesity.
Fiber is found only in plant foods. It is a type of carbohydrate that gives plants their structure. It is not digested or absorbed into the body when eaten. It carries no calories and is not considered to be a nutrient.
Fiber is not found in any animal-based product, such as dairy or meat. Only traces of fiber are found in heavily processed foods such as white rice, white bread, refined breakfast cereals, most cookies, crackers and regular pasta.
There are two types of fiber, both beneficial in different ways. Soluble fiber, such as pectin found in fruit, dissolves in water. This type of fiber helps treat heart disease and diabetes. Insoluble fiber includes wheat and the cellulose fibers added to high-fiber bread. This type of fiber helps make us feel full and aids in the digestion of other foods.
With every step our foods go through in processing, fiber content is diminished.
Orange juice, for example, has less than 1 gram of fiber per serving, while a fresh orange has 3 grams of fiber. Those fluffy, luscious mashed potatoes or delicious french fries also score a zero on the fiber scale, while a baked potato with skin brings with it 3 grams of fiber.
The average American diet includes about 11 grams of fiber daily. This is less than half the recommended amount suggested by health experts, including the surgeon general and the American Heart Association. Recent recommendations for fiber are for 25 to 38 grams daily. With such a positive connection to good health, a diet high in fiber may be a missing link for many of us.
Ways to add fiber to your diet:Try a high-fiber grain instead of rice. Bulgur, barley and brown rice are great high-fiber substitutes.
Add dry beans to stir-fry, dips or quesadillas.
Eat some type of fresh or dried fruit with every meal.
Eat the skin and membranes of fruits.
Start dinners with a large spinach salad, sprinkled with nuts, seeds or dried fruit.
Choose fruit instead of juice.
Make a pot of vegetable soup to freeze for lunches.
Try Middle Eastern cuisine, such as tabbouleh or falafel.
Keep nuts or cereal mixes available for snacks.
Buy whole-wheat pasta, breads and cereals.
Caution: Too much fiber too quickly may cause stomach discomfort. Add foods gradually and boost liquid intake to aid digestion.