Tag Archives: Whole grain

Benefits of Fiber

Q: What exactly is ‘fiber’ and why is it so good for you?

A: Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate, or a string of sugar units held together by bonds that human digestive enzymes cannot break. There are two types: soluble and insoluble fiber.

Food Sources

Soluble fiber: barley, oats, oat bran, rye, fruits (especially apples and citrus), beans, vegetables, seeds

Insoluble fiber: Brown rice, fruits, beans, seeds, vegetables (cabbage, carrots, brussels sprouts), wheat bran, whole grains

While fiber does not provide energy, it has many other beneficial effects:

1. Lowers blood cholesterol: Soluble fiber reduces cholesterol and the risk of heart disease by several mechanisms. (Note: This is why General Mills is able to claim that eating whole grain oat Cheerios can help lower your cholesterol.)

2. Maintains bowel function: Insoluble fiber speeds up the transit of food through your system, while soluble fiber slows it down.

3. Assists blood glucose control: Soluble fiber slows the absorption of glucose from the intestine into the blood stream, thereby preventing a spike (and crash) in blood glucose after a meal. This can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

4. Promotes weight management: Fiber makes you feel full and lessens hunger

5. May defend against colon and rectal cancer: Scientific studies are mixed, but insoluble fiber speeds up the removal of cancer-causing agents from the colon, while resident bacteria in the colon ferment soluble fiber, producing a beneficial compound that may help colon cells resist injury.

Recommended Intake: Since most fiber-rich foods supply a mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber, recommendations are given without regard to type. The American Dietetic Association suggests 20 – 35 grams of fiber daily, which is about twice the average intake. That said, don’t overload on fiber and make sure to increase fluid consumption as you gradually increase fiber intake.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans are among the best sources of fiber! Also, remember that fiber supplements are not necessarily substitutes for whole, fiber-rich foods.

Check the nutrition facts on the back of products to find out how much fiber is in one serving! Here are some examples:

½ cup whole grain barley – 3g fiber

½ cup instant oatmeal – 2g fiber

1 slice whole wheat bread – 3g fiber

1 slice white bread – 1g fiber

½ cup cooked brown rice – 2g fiber

½ cup cooked white rice – less than 1g fiber

¾ cup (2 oz) whole wheat penne pasta, dry – 6g fiber

¾ cup (2 oz) regular penne pasta, dry – 2g fiber


1 medium apple (with skin) – 3g fiber

1 medium pear (with skin) – 5g fiber

½ cup blackberries – 4g fiber

½ cup strawberries – 2g fiber

1 medium orange – 4g fiber

½ cup orange juice – less than 1g fiber

½ cup American grapes – less than 1g fiber


½ cup lentils – 8g fiber

½ cup chickpeas (garbanzo beans) – 5g fiber

½ cup black beans – 7.5g fiber


½ cup cooked broccoli – 2.5g fiber

1 medium artichoke – 10g fiber

1 medium baked potato (with skin) – 4.5g fiber

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Helpful hints when choosing your foods

My previous post on understanding the food pyramid provided guidelines on how many servings from each food group should be consumed per day.  Use that information, along with the tips below to make your diet as nutritious as possible.

Food Group Helpful Hints!
Grains

 

-Make half your daily grain choices whole grains.-Good sources: whole grain or whole wheat bread or pasta, oats, rye, barley, couscous

-Poor sources: enriched wheat flour (e.g. white bread), cookies, cakes, doughnuts

-When preparing mixed dishes, such as soups or stews, include whole grains such as barley or quinoa. Use whole grain bread crumbs in meatloaf and use whole wheat flour for up to half of the flour used in pancake, waffle and muffin recipes.


 

Fruit
-While 100% fruit juice counts towards daily fruit intake, try and limit consumption to less than ¾ cup per day (1.5 servings). Juice lacks the fiber that whole fruits provide.
-When selecting canned items, be sure the fruit is canned in 100% fruit juice or water, rather than syrup
 
Vegetables

-While french fries technically count as a veggie, it’s important to mix it up! Be sure to also eat dark green and orange veggies, such as spinach, broccoli, carrots and squash.
Dairy

-Milk choices, including fluid milk, cottage cheese and yogurt, should be fat-free or low-fat.
-Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, including cream cheese, cream and butter are not included in this group. Instead, they appear under “oils,” because of their fat content.


 

Meats, poultry, fish, nuts
-Choose lean or low-fat cuts and remember that preparation method matters! Baking or grilling a cutlet is a lot healthier than deep-frying it!-Wondering how many nuts make up ½ oz? It’s 12 almonds, 24 pistachios or 7 walnut halves.

-Good sources: beans, tofu, fish, chicken without skin, eggs, lean meat, peanut butter, seeds

-Poor sources: baked beans, fried eggs, sausages, spare ribs

-Eat fish at least twice a week and select fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout and herring.

-Organ meats, including liver, as well as egg yolks are high in cholesterol, but egg whites are cholesterol-free!

-Processed meats, such as ham, sausage, hot dogs and deli meats are high in sodium, so limit your intake.


 

Oils -It’s best to steer clear of solid fats, like butter and lard, because solid fats are high in trans fat and saturated fat, which increase your risk for heart disease. Instead, use liquid fats, such as canola, corn and olive oils. (Note: coconut and palm kernel are the two oils high in saturated fat and should be used sparingly.)

-When choosing margarine to purchase, look for one with zero grams trans fat.


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Whole vs. Refined Grains

Q: Why are whole grains healthier than refined grains?

A: The wheat kernel contains four main components: the germ – rich in oils, vitamins and minerals, the starchy endosperm, the nutrient- and fiber- packed bran coating and the inedible husk. A “whole grain” refers to a grain milled in its entirety, except for the husk. Examples of nutritious whole grains include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgar, corn, millet, quinoa, brown rice, oats and whole wheat. Refining grains removes the coarse parts of the kernel, which leaves only the starchy endosperm and causes the loss of fiber, vitamins and minerals.  All refined products (e.g. white bread, white pasta) are required to be enriched with iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate to combat deficiencies in these nutrients. Unfortunately, even enriched products remain nutritionally inferior to whole grains. For example, a slice of enriched white bread contains only 18% of the amount of vitamin B-6 that a slice of whole grain bread contains, and only a quarter of the amount magnesium and fiber.

The bottom line? Whole grains are much more nutrient dense than refined grains. When at the grocery store, do not judge by color alone! Look for products, such as breads, pastas, cereals and crackers, which contain “100% whole grains” or the word “whole” in front of the grain name on the ingredient list. For example, the ingredient label on a box of Cheerios tells us that the product is made from “whole grain oats.” Be cautious – “wheat bread” or “multi-grain crackers” may list  “unbleached enriched wheat flour” first on the ingredient list, which means it’s not made with healthy whole grains!

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