Adding Dietary Fiber to Your Diet
Adding Dietary Fiber to Your Diet
A closer look at the top five ways that dietary fiber and other facts affect your “regularity,” and prevent constipation.
Let’s talk about a very cringe-worthy topic for many: bathroom habits. Girls, for years you’ve tried for years to pretend like undigested food simply dissolves into thin air. Dudes, for reasons I’ll never understand, you seem to love being as descriptive with your movements and battles with constipation as possible. Sick. But, regardless of whether or not you want to discuss the in-depth details with your friends, “regularity” as we’ll call it, is insanely important for your health.
We all have different patterns when it comes to nature calling, but whether you’re a frequent restroom-sprinter, or go 2-3 days between bathroom breaks, consider making some changes in your eating habits. Neither is normal, but both are very common.
The Biology Part
When you eat something, the enzymes in your stomach and small intestine break it down. The nutrients from the delicious eggs, whole grain bread, fruit, and water you had for breakfast get absorbed to be used by your muscles, tissues and brain. Once there’s nothing left to absorb, the leftovers go to the garbage truck of your body, the large intestine (colon), and get eliminated.
So how do you get “more regular” and avoid the ever dreadful "C" word? Even if you’re not asking, I’m answering.
Factors affecting Frequency
The hot topic right now… we’re finding more and more out about fiber’s importance to your diet. You need to get at least 25-40g of fiber per day. Most Americans get 12-15g/day.
There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
When you hear soluble, use that alliteration technique you learned in 6th grade and think slow. Soluble fiber slows down digestion, meaning it keeps you fuller, longer. Studies also show it seems to help lower cholesterol, which is why soluble-fiber rich foods like oatmeal are considered “heart healthy”.
Where to find it: oatmeal, nuts and seeds, barley, lentils, peas, beans, flax, fruits (apples, mangoes, plums, kiwi, pears, berries, citrus fruits, and dried fruits like apricots, prunes, and figs), and some vegetables (dried peas, beans, and lentils).
Insoluble fiber is what people are referring to when they claim fiber makes you go. It adds bulk to food, moving it through your digestive system. It also helps keep you full and may actually reduce your risk for colon problems, because just think, old food sticking around can’t be good for you.
Where to find it: The skins of fruits and vegetables, crunchy veggies like carrots and celery, whole-wheat and wheat bran, brown rice, bulgur and seeds.
Last notes on fiber: Don’t worry about which kind you’re getting so much as that you’re getting enough in total. And slowly increase your consumption of high fiber foods towards 25-40g/day (fellas, you’re at the higher end), unless of course you like cramping and bloating, and all of the other delightful side effects of too much, too soon.
Dehydration is a huge reason for “lack of movement.” Think of water as a lubricant for the digestive tract. If that’s not a sexy description, I don’t know what is. Fiber soaks up water, and if you’re upping the amount of fiber-rich foods in your diet, but not upping your agua intake, things won’t travel along quite as smoothly as they’re supposed to. You need more lubricant! Grossed out yet? Nice! Anyway, drink up wherever and whenever possible, but avoid dehydrating fluids like alcohol and caffeinated drinks (coffee and soda).
Yet another reason to make time for exercise. Working out makes your intestinal muscles contract, decreasing the time it takes for food to move on out. How ‘bout them apples?
Studies are totally mixed, but there is evidence that probiotics – the friendly bacteria found in yogurt, kefir, miso and soy products – can help with irregularity. This has mostly been seen in acute cases (we’re talking stomach virus style here), but it’s an option to consider.
5. The Other Players
So you know fiber, water and exercise are crucial, but there are plenty of other things that you might be sensitive to. Common causes of irregularity are dairy, medications, stress, traveling, and vaccinations.
Now that you know what to do, here’s what not to do: Laxatives, unless recommended by your doc. Your body can get reliant on them if overused and, I don’t know about you, but a laxative addiction would be a total deal breaker. Also on the, “don’t do’s” list? Cleanses and detox diets.
Now that wasn’t so rough, was it? Okay, a little uncomfortable, but you gotta admit it beats the alternative!
About the Author
Carolyn is a Nutritionist/Registered Dietitian and has her masters in Clinical Nutrition from NYU. She went to Tulane in New Orleans for undergrad, spent 3 months traveling around the world on Semester at Sea and then swung through Boulder, CO before landing in her current home of NYC. Carolyn has a blog called One Smart Brownie (www.onesmartbrownie.com) to simplify healthy eating for those who don’t spend their lives studying nutrition. Her favorite hobbies include getting new stamps on her passport and telling yo mama jokes, and she says that if she were to have a crush on a food it would be chocolate biscotti, no questions asked.
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