by Dave on June 25, 2009

First appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, June 4, 2009:

By Lisa Harkins

Fiber. What’s so special about it?  EVERYTHING!

According to me (and research) fiber is good for just about everything that ails you.  A diet adequate in dietary fiber can prevent atherosclerosis, removing bad cholesterol (LDL) from our systems and increasing the good stuff (HDL). It can prevent diverticular disease (inflammation of the bowel), it helps manage blood sugars (critical for diabetics), and keeps us “regular”. (Note: the jury is still out on this nutrient decreasing risk of certain cancers, contrary to popular belief)

So does it matter what KIND of fiber we should be eating? Sort of.  Soluble fiber, (meaning the kind that forms a gel in water), found in the pulp of fruits, and in oatmeal, has been clinically proven to decrease cholesterol levels, keeping our hearts healthy. Insoluble fiber (“roughage”, or the kind that our body doesn’t break down), found in whole wheat bread and brown rice, has been shown to keep our gastrointestinal tracks in tip-top shape. Bottom (ahem, no pun intended) line…we need BOTH kinds to get the most nutritional benefit.

And does it matter how much fiber we get a day?  You bet. Women between 19-50 years old should shoot for 25g or more a day (21g daily for those 51 and older), and men between 14-50 years old, 38g a day or more (30g daily for those 51 and older). Kids should get their age plus 5g if not more.

Well, what foods are the most fiberlicious? Two hints…they are good for your heart…and they are the magical fruit…you got it – BEANS!  Beans (or legumes for you foodies) are our friends, and a cup of black beans can give you up to 19g of fiberlicious fiber. Cereals such as Fiber One and All Bran provide about 16g in a 3/4 cup serving, with a medium-sized sweet potato providing about 6g.

A slice of whole grain bread generally provides about 3-4g, and an apple about 3g. Don’t be fooled – that bran muffin only has about 2g – so skip it and the butter and have a whole grain English muffin with a tablespoon of peanut butter (loaded with protein and good fats) for a quick breakfast or post-workout snack. Add 8oz of calcium-rich skim milk and you have the perfect pick-me-up.

More tips to increase fiber in your diet:

o Eat the WHOLE fruit rather than the juice – juice contains virtually none of the original fiber of the fruit it was processed from.

o Shoot for 3 servings (just 3 oz, but try for more!) of whole grains every day – whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread, whole wheat couscous, brown rice, and whole grain cereals.

o Keep a container of raw, bite-sized veggies in the frig.  Munch on them while making dinner, pack a baggie up for lunch, toss in salads, or dip them into low-fat dressing as an after-school snack.

o Make a pot of chili with two kinds of beans – black and red kidney – serve with whole grain chips for a BBQ or with a green salad and whole wheat rolls for a quick dinner the entire family will enjoy.

Lisa Harkins is a clinical registered dietitian with Bayhealth Medical Centers and the owner of Ideal Nutrition and Fitness LLC ( You can reach her at

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