Fiber is an important part of our diet; however, with hectic lifestyles and meals on the go, it is difficult to get the recommended amount of fiber every day. Fiber, both soluble and insoluble, is not just important but vital to a healthy lifestyle. Insoluble fiber, fiber that does not dissolve in water, is necessary to maintain a healthy digestive tract. Sources of insoluble fiber include whole-wheat flour, nuts and vegetables. Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, can be found in beans, apples, carrots, peas and citrus fruits. The benefit of a high-fiber diet goes beyond maintaining your digestive tract. Increasing your dietary fiber lowers cholesterol levels, helps control blood sugar levels and aids in losing weight or maintaining and healthy weight. Furthermore, studies have shown that diets high in fiber reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers (colon and breast).
With all the benefits of fiber, why is it that some individuals do not modify their diets to increase dietary fiber intake? Probably the answer lies with convenience and cost – – most convenience food is not high in fiber and those that are cost more than other food choices. My family has a history heart disease and high cholesterol; therefore, we have found easy ways to work more fiber into our diets each day.
1. Eat fruit with each meal. This is an excellent way to increase fiber each day. We substitute fruit for our dessert thereby getting more fiber and reducing calories and sugar. In the summer have a fruit salad as desert or as a side dish. Have melon soup as an appetizer instead of snacking on chips before dinner.
2. Leave the skin on vegetables and fruits. Instead of having mashed potatoes as a side dish, have a baked potato or baked sweet potato and eat the skin – – the skin of vegetables are a great source of fiber. This also includes the skin on apples, pears and peaches. Cut fruit, leaving the skin on, for snacks during the day.
3. Use flaxseeds, wheat germ and other high-fiber items when cooking. Adding flaxseeds or nuts to the batter of cookies, muffins and breads adds crunch and flavor while adding a ton of fiber.
4. Add fruit to cereal and oatmeal for a fiber-packed breakfast. Eggs, bacon and biscuits might sound tasty and they are good for protein; however, they are not a great source of fiber. Instead, begin your day with oatmeal or cereal and throw in some fruit for extra fiber.
5. Make every snack you eat increase your fiber for the day. I go to the whole foods store and stock up on nutritious, high-fiber ingredients to make our own snack mix. I try to change the ingredients every other week to make it more interesting but I usually have some type of dried fruit, nuts, pretzels, whole-grain crackers broken into bite-size pieces and raisins. It does not matter what you put in as long as it is healthy, high in fiber and you like it!