By Marilyn Bay Wentz, Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association
Medical and nutritional research continues to provide a host of reasons to increase dietary fiber in our diets. Fiber consumption appears to significantly lower risks for developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure.
"Increasing dietary fiber by consuming foods high in fiber, the leading source of which is fruits and vegetables, is a healthy choice," said Amy Kunugi, chair of the Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Nutrition and Health Committee.
Here are some additional reasons to increase dietary fiber:
Healthy digestive system
Scientists believe and research seems to support dietary fiber as a partial remedy to a variety of troubling digestive maladies.
Dietary fiber is believed to prevent or lessen the severity of diverticulitis or inflammation of diverticula in the digestive tract. According to Elizabeth Palermo, in an article in everydayhealth.com, "Many researchers believe that the primary cause of diverticulitis is too little fiber in the diet. Studies have shown that people in Africa and Asia, where high-fiber diets are common, rarely suffer from diverticular disease."
Sufferers of other painful, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease and colitis, may benefit from increased dietary fiber for several reasons. Since these diseases involve an immune reaction in the intestinal tract, an increase in non-soluble fiber in the digestive track prevents immune cells from attacking themselves, and it also keeps the broken down food moving through the intestinal system. In addition, some soluble fibers, such as psyllium, are probiotics that encourage the growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract, which is essential for normal digestion.
Increasing consumption of dietary fiber leads to a feeling of fullness, thereby reducing the tendency to overeat or snack between meals. A study published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that overweight individuals who simply increased fiber consumption to at least 30 grams daily lost nearly as much weight as those on a more stringent, 13-component American Heart Association Diet.
Because adequate dietary fiber is needed for good digestion, both to retain nutrients and to move waste efficiently out of the body, fiber also is a factor in maintaining a good complexion. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician, "Fiber, particularly psyllium husk, may help move yeast and fungus out of your body, preventing them from being excreted through your skin where they could trigger acne or rashes."
So, how much fiber do we need and how do we get it?
Increasing dietary fiber benefits both adults and children. The recommendation is to eat 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed. For an average adult diet, that is 20-30 grams per day, as recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some experts, including Dr. Mercola, recommend consuming 50 grams of fiber daily.
Fiber supplements are available, but nutrition experts agree it is best to get fiber through what we eat. Food categories high in fiber include vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes and whole grains. Fortunately for Colorado consumers, a wide variety of fresh, quality produce that is high in fiber is grown by Colorado farmers, including broccoli, sweet corn, potatoes, carrots, cooking and salad greens, raspberries, pears, apples and strawberries.
"Consuming five or more fresh, skin-on fruits and vegetables each day goes a long way toward meeting the minimum dietary standards for fiber, not to mention the array of other nutritional elements contained," said Kunugi.
The Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association urges consumers to look for produce with the Colorado Proud designation in grocery stores and farmers' markets as well for on-farm outlets. For more on Colorado produce seasonal availability, nutrition information and to find a grower near you, log on to: http://coloradoproduce.org/produce-directory/