Recently, fiber has become a prominent nutrient of concern in the standard American diet due to inadequate fruit, vegetable and whole grain intake. Fiber is found in plants and provides many benefits for the human body. Ironically, our bodies need fiber, however unlike other nutrients, it’s never actually absorbed. The distinctive path of digestion fiber follows, along with its unique health benefits, makes this an interesting nutrient.
There are two types of fiber that can be found in plants: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber helps to slow the digestion process, which is beneficial in controlling blood glucose levels and helps increase the length of satiety, or fullness, experienced following the consumption of a meal. Soluble fiber has been linked to lowered cholesterol levels as well. Insoluble fiber is responsible for more rapid food movement through the intestines. This type of fiber is commonly related to the promotion of a healthy gut. Veggies and whole grains are among the best sources of insoluble fiber.
Both varieties of fiber are beneficial for multiple reasons. First, and most commonly known, it promotes the health and proper function of the digestive tract. Fiber cannot be absorbed through our intestinal wall and therefore acts more as a sweeper as it journeys through the small and large intestines. Maintaining a healthy colon by removing any undigested food particles is a key benefit of consuming fiber. Next, fiber has been shown to help lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels. Some studies also suggest a decreased risk of cancer with the increased consumption of fiber-containing foods. Additionally, fiber can help with weight control due to the increased length of fullness it promotes.
Animal-based products, such as milk, yogurt, eggs, poultry, and meat, do not contain fiber. To increase the amount of fiber in a diet, it is necessary to consume more nuts, veggies, fruits and whole grains. Below are some foods that contain large amounts of fiber:
- Grains: bran cereals, whole grain bread, oatmeal
- Fruits: berries, apples, pears, raisins
- Legumes: black beans, lentils, peas
- Vegetables: winter squash, corn
There are many other foods that contain fiber and can easily be incorporated into a diet to improve fiber intake.
Restaurants can help customers increase their fiber consumption by adding more plant-based menu options. Don’t be alarmed, this does not mean your restaurant has to adopt an entirely vegan menu. Simple swaps can be offered including:
- Provide the option of vegetarian proteins, such as beans or lentils, to be served in place of meat.
- Serve hearty vegetables, like leafy greens, as an accompaniment to main entrees.
- Introduce whole grain breads to your breakfast menu or to the complementary breadbasket.
- Top salads with nuts, dried fruit, whole-grain croutons or all three.
With simple edits, menu items and foods cooked at home can feature more fiber and promote overall health. Most Americans only consume half of the recommended 25 grams of dietary fiber per day, marking a significant margin for improvement. Increasing the amount of plant foods in the diet is a quick way to capture the benefits associated with an increased intake of fiber.