Add high fiber foods such as berries, beans, grains or greens to your diet. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Just what is dietary fiber?

It is a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods and is made up of many sugar molecules linked together. However, unlike other carbohydrates (such as starch), dietary fiber is bound together in such a way that it cannot be readily digested in the small intestine.

Dietary fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.

Soluble and insoluble fibers make up the two basic categories of dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber is found in a variety of foods including wheat bran, whole grain products, fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fibers increase stool bulk and help to regulate bowel movements.

Soluble fibers become gummy in water. This type of fiber actually slows the passage of food through the digestive system. Researchers believe this action helps to regulate cholesterol and glucose (sugar) levels in the blood by affecting absorption rates. Food sources of soluble fibers are dried beans, oats, barley and some fruits and vegetables.

How much is enough? Healthy adults should consume between 20 and 35 grams of dietary fiber each day. Most American men and women eat about 11 grams of dietary fiber daily. Do you need a fiber boost? Here are a few tips:

Read food labels. The Nutrition Facts Label will tell you the number of dietary fiber grams in each serving of a food.

Start the day with a whole-grain cereal that contains at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Top with nuts, raisins, bananas, or berries, all of which are good sources of fiber.

Avoid peeling fruits and vegetables. Eating the skin ensures that you get every bit of fiber. But rinse with water to remove surface dirt and bacteria before eating. Whole fruits and vegetables contain more fiber than juice.

Eat more whole grain foods such as barley, brown rice, bulgur, oatmeal, quinoa, rolled oats, whole grain corn, whole grain sorghum, popcorn and whole wheat.

Add beans to soups, stews and salads. Include legume-based dishes (such as lentil soup, bean burritos, or rice and beans) in your weekly menu.

If you plan to boost your fiber intake, do so gradually! Give the bacteria in your stomach and intestines time to adjust. If you add more fiber too quickly– or consume too much on a regular basis – you may end up with gas, diarrhea, cramps and bloating. Also remember to drink plenty of water and other fluids. You need enough fluids for fiber to do its job.

Black Bean & Rice Salad

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green or red bell pepper
  • 1 cup cooked and cooled brown or white rice
  • 1 can (15 ounce) drained and rinsed black beans

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder (optional)
  • 1 chopped clove garlic or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Wash hands with soap and water. Rinse onion and pepper under running water before chopping.

In a mixing bowl, stir together onion, pepper, rice and beans.

In a jar with a tight fitting lid, add vinegar, dry mustard, garlic, salt, pepper and vegetable oil. Shake until dressing is evenly mixed.

Pour dressing over bean mixture and stir to mix evenly. Chill for at least one hour. Serve cold as a side dish or main dish.

Makes 3 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 520 calories, 12 g fat, 87 g carbohydrate, 17 g fiber and 18 g fiber.

Recipe adapted from: Montana Extension Nutrition Education Program

Cami Wells is an Extension Educator for Nebraska Extension in Hall County. Contact her at 308-385-5088 or at cwells2@unl.edu.

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