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A Message Worth Repeating: Eat Your Fiber

Your patients know they probably don't eat enough fiber. They hear it from you, see it on countless television commercials and read about it in health publications (including this one). Most patients also know why fiber is important - research evidence links inadequate fiber intake with conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, inflammation of the intestine (diverticulitis) and constipation, among other things.

Despite being armed with this wealth of knowledge, patients sometimes have more questions than answers when the topic of fiber comes up. What foods are the best sources of fiber? How do we incorporate more fiber into our diets?

One question many of your patients probably have is, what is the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber? After all, an increasing percentage of food labels distinguish between the two. Fiber that partially dissolves in water is called soluble. Conversely, fiber that doesn't dissolve in water is called insoluble.

In terms of function, here's a key distinction between soluble and insoluble fiber: Soluble fiber slows digestion and helps the body absorb vital nutrients, while insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool, helping foods pass through the stomach and intestines. Examples of good food sources of each type of fiber are listed below.

Breaking Down Fiber:
Soluble vs. Insoluble
Soluble Insoluble
Oatmeal/oat bran Whole-wheat breads
Nuts and seeds Barley
Dried peas Couscous
Beans Brown rice
Lentils Wheat bran
Apples Carrots
Pears Zucchini
Strawberries Celery
Blueberries Whole-grain cereals

The current recommendation for dietary fiber intake for adults is 20-35 grams per day. However, the average person consumes only 14-15 grams of fiber a day. To help increase daily fiber intake, experts recommend eating whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices; replacing white rice, bread and pasta with brown rice and whole-grain products; eating whole-grain breakfast cereals; eating raw vegetables instead of chips, crackers and sweets when craving a snack; substituting legumes for meat two or three times a week in soups and chili; and trying Indian or Middle Eastern dishes that use whole grains and legumes as part of their main meal, salads and side dishes.

So educate your patients about the benefits of fiber!

  1. Fiber: Start Roughing It! Harvard School of Public Health: www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/fiber.html.
  2. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002136.htm.

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Date Last Modified - Wednesday, 17-Dec-2008 12:43:02 PDT