BETH WALKER: Fiber does a body good

Individuals searching for a healthy and natural way to lower cholesterol, control body weight and manage diabetes now have a helpful answer: fiber.
Fiber is not just a single thing, but a multitude of varying components that benefit the body in many different ways. Technically, it is found in the part of plants that are not completely digested by our bodies. Foods that naturally contain fiber are fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Animal products, such as meat and dairy, do not contain fiber.
Fiber can be categorized as either soluble or insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves and forms a gel in the digestive tract that helps trap and remove substances related to cholesterol from your body. It is found in foods such as beans and peas, oatmeal, rice, barley, strawberries, citrus fruits and apples. Insoluble fiber absorbs water like a sponge, which makes stool heavier. This promotes movement through the digestive system. Insoluble fiber is found in foods like whole wheat, rice, barley and most vegetables.
Fiber offers several healthy benefits:
n Helps reduce cholesterol. By reducing the amount of cholesterol floating in the bloodstream, the body is less likely to form dangerous clots that can cause heart attacks and heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, soluble fibers modestly reduce LDL cholesterol better than following a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol alone.
n Controls body weight. Since fiber slows down the emptying of food from the stomach, the feeling of fullness lasts longer. An individual will manage to eat less, but still feel full.
n Prevents constipation and hemorrhoids. With the right intake of water (about eight 8-ounce glasses a day), fiber helps with regularity, one of the top gastrointestinal complaints of the elderly, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
n Helps manage diabetes. Studies have shown that high-fiber diets can lower blood sugar levels for people with type 1 diabetes, and people with type 2 diabetes can see an improvement in blood sugars, insulin levels and blood lipids.
Here are some tips for incorporating fiber into a diet:
- Substitute a whole grain product for a refined product, such as eating whole wheat bread instead of white bread and brown rice for white.
- Choose cereals with 3 grams of fiber or more such as Cheerios, All Bran or Shredded Wheat.
n Choose whole fruits instead of juices, which have the majority of fiber removed.
- For snacks, choose fruits, vegetables, light popcorn or whole grain pretzels instead of salty chips or refined crackers.
- For variety, experiment with different whole grains like barley, bulgur, wild rice and couscous.

Bean Salad with
Balsamic Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1⁄3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Ground black pepper, to taste
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
1 medium red onion, diced
6 lettuce leaves
1⁄2 cup celery, finely chopped
To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, parsley, garlic and pepper. While whisking, slowly add olive oil. Set aside. In a separate large bowl, combine the beans and onion. Pour the vinaigrette over the mixture and toss gently to coat evenly. To serve, divide each serving over the lettuce leaves and garnish with chopped celery.
Serves 6.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 250 calories, 7g fiber and 10g protein.

Beth Walker is a registered dietitian at North Mississippi Medical Center.

NEMS Daily Journal