The dietary fiber in fruits and vegetables can truly be considered a supernutrient: It contains no calories, helps you lose weight by filling you up and lowers your risk of diseases including metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and heart disease. And when you simply eat a whole piece of fruit, like an apple, with the peel, you’re getting both kinds of fiber — insoluble and soluble.
However, most Americans are falling woefully short of this important nutrient, according to Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., LN, CNS, professor emeritus at St. Catherine University. “The real problem is we don’t know we have a problem,” says Jones. “When you don’t know you have a problem, you don’t know how to address it. Thirty-five percent of the people in this country think we are getting enough fiber. So we really have a big job in terms of communication, in terms of telling people we aren’t getting enough fiber.”
Jones suggests an easy fiber fix. All you have to do, she says, is strive for a mix of fiber sources including plant-based as well as fiber-fortified foods like breads, cereals, yogurt and pasta.
I have one problem with her suggestion, however. If you seek fiber from processed food sources, you’re getting a lot of added sugar, questionable additives and preservatives, products manufactured from GMO food sources — and you’re supporting the very food manufacturers who are partially responsible for our fiber deficit.
Most processed foods are devoid of fiber. The very act of processing food strips valuable nutrients, including fiber, vitamins and minerals. Big food companies then have to add fiber back in to specifically market fiber-rich foods. There’s just something not right about that whole process.
My easy fiber fix? Just eat more fruits and vegetables. Sticking to natural plant-based fiber sources can help you get all the fiber you need — as long as you understand that a thin piece of lettuce or tomato on a hamburger doesn’t count as a single serving of your daily allowance of fruits or vegetables, as noted by Jones.
The Healthy People 2010 initiative, a government program for improving U.S. health, advocates eating two fruits and three vegetables daily. But only one of three people eats that much fruit and about one in four eats the recommended number of vegetables.
To reach that goal, all you have to do is eat one vegetable at each meal and a piece of fruit for dessert at lunch and dinner. But I think you should — and can — eat more than that. Because the health benefits of dietary fiber are supersized: It improves your cholesterol, lowers your risk of high blood pressure, keeps your blood sugar under control and is linked to keeping your weight down along with other health betterments. It also improves your digestive health.
For a quick list of high-fiber foods, including fiber content by serving, see Dr. Wiley’s article on the “more fiber diet.”
So I leave you with this: Eat your fruits and veggies. Sometimes the best health advice is the simplest—and smartest. Make that change and you’ll find the health rewards for this simple change in your diet are hugely advantageous.