Why you should get more fiber in your diet

The word “nutrition” is often associated with a long list of all the things you’re not supposed to eat. No fat, no sugar, no salt, no cholesterol. The next thought is no taste, no fun, no satisfaction.

But happily in this new age of nutrition discovery and focus on optimal health, it’s really more about what to add to your diet — not take away. This is especially true for food sources of fiber. We should eat more fruits and vegetables and reach for more whole grains such as brown rice and whole-wheat bread.

The sad truth is that most Americans consume only 12 to 14 grams of fiber per day, falling far short of the recommended intake of 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day.

To put that into perspective, the amount of fiber in a half cup of black beans is 7 grams, a medium apple with skin contains 5 grams, a slice of whole-wheat bread has 2 to 3 grams, an ounce of pecans has 3 grams, and a half cup of Brussels sprouts adds 2 grams of fiber.

Where’s the fiber?

Most fiber comes from plant foods, such as beans, broccoli and oatmeal. It’s the part of the plant that your body can’t digest, so it pretty much comes out the way it goes in, making it calorie-free.

Fiber in foods helps keep you from suffering highs and lows in blood sugar levels, helps lower cholesterol, prevents constipation and may reduce risk of some types of cancer. While your body can’t digest fiber, the “good” bacteria that are permanent residents in your intestinal tract feast on all that passes. The result is a bigger, stronger bacterial force that may help keep your immune system healthy.

Fiber can play a powerful role in weight control, too. Since fiber provides bulk in the belly, it can help you feel full longer.

A tale of two fibers

Both are filling, so they help you curb your appetite.

Soluble fiber: The kind of fiber in oat bran, apples and beans acts kind of like a sponge in the digestive tract and has been shown to grab onto cholesterol and take it down the line.

Insoluble fiber: The kind of fiber in the strings of celery, apple peels, asparagus, kale or in cereal or rice bran is indigestible, so working as “nature’s broom,” it sweeps the intestinal tract clean to help “keep you regular.”

Finding fiber on menu

Fall is a great time to enjoy all kinds of seasonal tastes that happen to be high in fiber.

At Canoe, executive chef Carvel Gould serves a fabulous fiber-rich spaghetti squash and carrot sauté with pecans and wilted baby spinach alongside the grilled salmon. Peruvian white beans, eggplant hummus and collards complement her cornmeal-crusted rainbow trout.

Vegetable plates, popular at many area restaurants, are a good bet for adding fiber to your day.

At Seasons 52, the new fall menu features an Autumn Vegetarian Tasting with quinoa, chile relleno, cedar-roasted tofu and mango chutney.

Seasons 52’s meat and fish entrees — designed to be less than 450 total calories — get the fruit and veggie treatment, too. Maple Leaf Farms Sesame Duck comes with chopped greens, apples, mint, cranberries, butternut squash and toasted pecans.

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Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” Email her at carolynoneil@aol.com.