Friday’s Flavor: The benefits of fiber

Editor’s note: The Scout will run a weekly column about various nutrition topics. The columns are written by members of the Dietetics Student Association and are evaluated for accuracy by Jeannette Davidson, who is a registered dietician and director of the Dietetics Program.
Fiber is definitely the “it” food ingredient in today’s growing health-conscious society.
Everything from granola bars to the more unusual items like canned soups, Fruit Loops and ice cream are now advertising as good sources of fiber.
According to the Nielsen Company, a marketing research firm, almost 3,500 products on the market are touting fiber claims on their packages. So what is all of this fiber hullabaloo about?
Let this article be your guide to a quick lesson in Fiber 101.
Fiber is naturally found in plant foods and is the part of the food our bodies can’t digest.
There are two types of fiber; insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber moves food material through your digestive tract and increases the bulk of – you guessed it – what comes out at the other end.
Good sources of insoluble fiber are whole wheat flour, wheat bran, vegetables and nuts.
Soluble fiber forms a gel-like material as it passes through your large intestine.
This type of fiber slows the transit of foodstuff through the digestive tract. Oats, oat bran, apples, beans, peas, citrus fruits, barley, flaxseed and carrots are good sources of soluble fiber.
The American Dietetic Association recommends the average adult have a daily fiber intake of 20 to 35 grams from a variety of sources.
Gradually incorporating more fiber into your diet can help prevent constipation, lower your risk of gastrointestinal disorders, lower cholesterol, control blood sugar and even aid in weight loss.
So exactly how does fiber manage to provide all of these beneficial effects?
Let me explain.
First of all, fiber plays an important role in preventing constipation. According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, nearly 80 percent of people deal with constipation at some point in their lives.
Including enough fiber in your diet makes it easier to pass stool. Also, digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and hemorrhoids can be better prevented by consuming a healthy dose of fiber.
Soluble fiber may help reduce cholesterol levels by lowering the “bad” type of cholesterol, also known as LDL. Insoluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar during digestion, which ultimately affects the amount of sugar able to enter bloodstream.
Finally, fibrous foods tend to make us feel fuller after we eat them and take longer to digest. In turn, people often feel fuller longer and are less compelled to eat throughout the day. Another added benefit to those aiming to loose weight is that many fiber-touting foods are low in calories.
If you’d like to start adding more fiber to your diet, you can start by making a trip to any local grocery store.
In the morning, consider filling up your bowl with a high-fiber cereal. Not sure if your cereal is high in fiber? Check the nutrition facts label – five or more grams of fiber per serving qualifies a cereal to be high in fiber.
Even switching from a sugary cereal to a whole-grain cereal such as Cheerios can make a difference in your fiber intake.
Swapping out white bread for whole-grain bread, eating a piece of fruit with each meal, and snacking on fresh vegetables, fruits, low-fat popcorn, and granola bars with added fiber can also help you reach your fiber intake goals. 
It is very important to gradually add fiber into your diet. Eating too much too quickly can cause uncomfortable gas, bloating, and cramping as your body has not been given enough time to adjust.
Make sure to drink plenty of water as well to help the fiber move more easily and help prevent constipation. Too much of this good thing has the ability to plug you up!
Adding fiber to your diet is easier now than ever.
If you feel you may be falling short in the fiber department, take advantage of introducing yourself to a few new fibrous food choices.
With more than 3,500 fiber-boosting products on the grocery shelves, one of these is bound to please your taste buds (as well as your digestive health)!