Getting fiber from more than a bran muffin

To some people, foods high in fiber are like eating twigs and thistles. This is far from the truth. Fiber rich foods are fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and even some common foods that are fortified with fiber such as yogurt.

Fiber is also called roughage or bulk and is calorie-free. Fiber can be either soluble or insoluble and is essential for good health. Soluble fiber is the part of the plant material that absorbs or dissolves in water and coats the digestive tract with gel, which slows the absorption of sugars and fats. It traps bile salts, which contain cholesterol and carries them out of the body. Therefore, soluble fiber can aid in the treatment of diabetes and high blood cholesterol. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is the substance that gives plants their structure. It adds bulk to the diet and absorbs water as it travels through the digestive tract and helps to promote regularity and protect against diverticulitis and colon cancer.

Most Americans fall short of the recommended 20-25 grams daily. Fiber is not found in animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs or milk.

Good sources of fiber are all fruits and vegetables with edible skins and seeds, dried beans and peas, whole grain or bran cereals, whole wheat or graham crackers, bran, whole wheat, rye or pumpernickel breads, nuts, seeds, oat bran and oat products, barley, corn bran and popcorn.

It is best to increase fiber in the diet slowly. It takes time for the digestive tract to adapt. Spread fiber-rich foods throughout the day. Drink plenty of water. The fiber contains complex sugars which may cause gas as they are digested. To avoid this discomfort, food enzyme supplements are available. It is best not to exceed the 35 gram recommendation. Too much fiber can inhibit absorption of important nutrients and lead to discomfort.

The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620. Information is also periodically provided by the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center. They may be reached at 565-4543 or 565-4625.

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