Boost health with more fiber

148769364I’m trying to add more fiber in my diet, but I’m not sure how much I need or if it matters what type of fiber it is. Can you fill me in?

The amount of fiber you need varies a bit, depending on your age and gender.

The 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans lists these goals for adults:

  • Ages 19 to 30: 28 grams per day for women; 34 grams for men.
  • Ages 31 to 50: 25 grams for women; 31 grams for men.
  • Ages 51 and older: 22 grams for women, 28 grams for men.

Unfortunately, most Americans don’t get nearly enough fiber. And that’s too bad, because research continues to show fiber’s benefits.

For example, a study published online in advance of the May 2013 issue of the journal Stroke indicates that for every 7-gram increase in daily fiber consumption, the risk of stroke decreases by 7 percent.

There are plenty of other health benefits of a high-fiber diet, too. Fiber can both prevent constipation and reduce the risk of loose, watery stools, normalizing bowel movements. Eating fiber, particularly soluble fiber, decreases low-density lipoprotein (the “bad”) cholesterol, and it also might help reduce blood pressure and inflammation. A high-fiber diet can help prevent diabetes, and, in people who already have diabetes, it can slow down the absorption of sugar, thus improving blood sugar levels. High-fiber diets are also linked to maintaining a healthy weight, likely because they tend to add volume but no calories to foods and help you feel full longer.

Experts recommend getting a good mix of soluble and insoluble fiber — both provide health benefits. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance, helping lower blood sugar and cholesterol, while insoluble fiber helps move food through your digestive system and bulks up and softens stools.

To increase the fiber in your diet, try eating more of both kinds of fiber:

  • Sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, oat cereal, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, beans, dried peas, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery and carrots.
  • Sources of insoluble fiber include whole wheat, whole grains, wheat bran, corn bran, seeds, nuts, barley, couscous, brown rice, bulgur, zucchini, celery, broccoli, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, raisins, grapes, fruit and skins of root vegetables.

Boost nutrients, cut fat in recipes

159298758I’m looking for easy ways to make some of my recipes and meals healthier. Any ideas?

This is a great way to start the new year, and yes, there are plenty of ideas to increase nutrients and reduce fat and calories in the foods you prepare at home. Below are some favorites, primarily from Ohio State University Extension (see “Modifying a Recipe to be Healthier” at http://ohioline.osu.edu) and eXtension (see “Recipe Substitutions” at http://www.extension.org).

To reduce fat:

  • Use evaporated skim milk instead of cream.
  • Use 1/4 cup egg substitute or two egg whites in place of a whole egg.
  • In quick breads, muffins, brownies or cakes, substitute half or all of the oil, butter or other shortening with unsweetened applesauce, mashed bananas or fruit puree. Note: Making this substitution will increase carbohydrates in the end product — something to be aware of if you have diabetes.
  • Use low-fat or nonfat yogurt in place of sour cream.
  • Use low-fat cottage cheese pureed until smooth or low-fat cream cheese in place of full-fat cream cheese.
  • Try lower-fat or nonfat versions of a variety of foods, especially milk, cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, salad dressing and margarine.
  • Use an air popper for popcorn.

To increase fiber:

  • Replace half the all-purpose flour in baked goods with whole-wheat flour.
  • Add oats or finely ground fiber-rich non-sweetened cereal to replace some or all of the bread crumbs in a recipe, or to the crust or batter when making desserts.
  • Add beans or barley to soups, stews and casseroles.
  • Add sauteed vegetables — cherry tomatoes, onions, spinach or zucchini, for example — to scrambled eggs.
  • Don’t peel apples, cucumbers, zucchini or potatoes before eating them or using them in recipes.
  • Choose high-fiber alternatives for cereal, bread and pasta — look at the Nutrition Facts labels.

To increase other nutrients:

  • Add cooked and mashed cauliflower to mashed potatoes, or add cooked chopped cauliflower to macaroni and cheese.
  • Add chopped spinach or zucchini to pasta sauce, soups and casseroles.
  • For salads, choose romaine, endive or other dark-green leafy lettuce instead of iceberg lettuce, and include baby spinach leaves.
  • Increase calcium by adding nonfat milk or dry milk to a casserole’s cream sauce or to cream soups.
  • Increase antioxidants by sprinkling hot sauce on foods. The capsaicin in it shows promise in anti-cancer studies, though it may take quite a bit to have a discernible effect.