By: Jamie Jablonowski, RN, BSN
Follow me on Twitter! @jamiejab
Ever wonder why that senior citizen couple on TV have such big smiles on their faces as they pour their powder packet of Metamucil into their morning juice? Well, ladies and gentleman, because that packet of fiber means one more bowel movement on the books. It sounds gross, but fiber is a necessary part of digestion and most people only have a vague idea about what fiber is and why it is so important. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Most people do not get enough fiber in their diets.
For adults aged 50 years and younger, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends 38 grams of fiber for men and 25 grams of fiber for women. For those over 50 years of age, the IOM recommends 30 grams of fiber for men and 21 grams of fiber for women (this is because people eat less as they get older). Most Americans only get 15 grams of fiber per day.
2. A high fiber diet keeps your bowels happy.
Fiber is like a tube on a lazy river through your digestive tract. It helps move everything through your body and increases the bulk of you stool which can help with constipation and keeping your bowel movements regular (which becomes increasingly important with age). It helps regulate the weight, size, and softness of your stool and thus also prevents diarrhea. Unfortunately, no amount of fiber will help if you eat too much Taco Bell.
3. Diets high in fiber may reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions.
A study by Harvard found that people who have diets that are low in fiber, but high in foods that quickly increase blood sugar levels have a greater risk of Type 2 diabetes. Soluble fiber has also been linked to lower cholesterol and may help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
4. Fiber can help you reach a healthy weight.
High fiber foods tend to make you feel full quicker and feel that way for longer than low fiber foods. These foods also have less energy in proportion to the amount of food you are consuming, which means you can eat more, but ingest fewer calories.
5. There are many different foods that are high in fiber.
The following have 3 grams or more per serving:
Fruits- Raspberries, pears (with skin), apples (with skin), bananas, oranges, strawberries
Grains-Whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, bran flakes, popcorn, brown rice
Legumes, nuts, seeds- cooked split peas, cooked lentils, cooked black beans, cooked Lima beans, baked beans, sunflower seeds, almonds
Vegetables-cooked artichoke, cooked peas, boiled broccoli, cooked Brussels sprouts
6. If you decide to increase the amount of fiber in your diet, do it slowly.
Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet quickly can overload your system and cause constipation, gas, malabsorption, and diarrhea. In addition, if you increase the amount of fiber in your diet, make sure you also increase the amount of water; otherwise you can cause blockages inside your intestines. This puts a block in the pipes and doesn’t let any other food get past. This should not be something you decide to take on an hour before a first date.
Making sure you get adequate fiber in your diet is a good habit to get into now. One day, your bowel movements (or lack thereof) will be appropriate breakfast conversation with not only your partner, but your neighbors, friends, family, and mailman. I’m pretty sure they already make up a majority of male-to-male Snapchats.