While neither soluble nor insoluble fiber are digested or absorbed, each type provides health benefits.
Types of Fiber
Soluble fiber: Soluble fibers include pectin, beta glucan, gums, and mucilages. They absorb water to form a gel-like substance, which slows digestion. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol-containing bile acids preventing absorption. As a result it is linked to a reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol. It has also been found to slow the absorption of sugar in those with type 2 diabetes, which results in better blood glucose control.
Insoluble fiber: Insoluble fibers include cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. These fibers add bulk by retaining water. This speeds digestion and prevents constipation.
Sources: Wheat bran, brown rice, broccoli, cabbage, dark leafy greens, and raisins.
Most plant-based foods contain both soluble and insoluble fibers. Instead of tracking your intake of each type, health professionals recommend eating a variety of fiber-rich foods to get the soluble and insoluble fiber you need. Adults should aim to get 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber each day.
Due to fiber’s role in digestion, a rapid increase in intake can result in bloating, cramping, and gas. When adding more fiber-rich foods to your eating plan, gradually add a few grams per week over several weeks until you reach the recommended amount. Increasing your water intake can also help ease the effects of increased fiber.
Fiber and Weight Loss
High-fiber foods have been associated with improved weight loss. These foods often have a texture that requires more chewing, which slows how quickly you finish a meal. Slower eating leads to mindful eating and a feeling of fullness. Many high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are also low in calories. Additionally, high-fiber foods may keep you feeling full longer to prevent high-calorie snacking between meals.
Research shows that if you are overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can lower your cholesterol levels. If you are using MyFoodDiary to reach or maintain your healthy weight, you've already taken the first step. Here are more ways you can lower your cholesterol through diet and exercise:
Limit saturated fats to less than 7 percent of total calories. Saturated fats are most often found in animal products, such as red meat and butter.
Eliminate trans fatty acids from your diet. Trans fats are found in processed foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Even foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving can be labeled trans fat-free so check ingredient lists and avoid foods with “hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list.
Limit daily cholesterol intake to 300 mg or less. Those who have been diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes should limit cholesterol intake to 200 mg per day.
Eat more foods with omega-3 fatty acids, including fish (such as wild salmon and lake trout), flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and kale. Research shows that the biggest cholesterol lowering benefit comes with eating fish.
Eat more dietary fiber, especially in the form of dried beans, oat bran, barley, eggplant, apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus. These foods contain soluble fiber, which has been found to lower LDL cholesterol. Adults should eat 20-35 grams of fiber per day.
Engage in 30 - 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least five days a week, preferably every day. This amount of exercise has been shown to increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Make sure you discuss your plan with your doctor. If you are at high risk for heart disease, your doctor may recommend an approach such as combining lifestyle changes with medication to improve your cholesterol more quickly.
Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables can all be healthy. Follow these tips for choosing the most nutritious options.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are often considered the gold standard when it comes to healthy eating. At peak ripeness, these foods are loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants and fiber. But many vitamins are unstable during temperature changes, exposure to light, and long storage. This means the fresh foods in the produce section of your supermarket may not always be the most nutritious choice.
Foods ripened on the vine contain more nutrients than those picked early and ripened through commercial processes. If you are selecting in-season produce that was grown close by, then you are likely getting the healthiest produce possible. If it was picked weeks ago and has spent days in the cooler, some of the valuable nutrients have been lost.
The longer you store fruits and vegetables, the more the nutrients decrease. Even if you pick produce from your own garden, eat it within a day or two of harvest to avoid nutrient losses.
Research shows frozen foods can be as (or more) nutritious as fresh fruits and vegetables. Before freezing, many of these foods are picked at their peak ripeness improving nutrient content. Some frozen foods are slightly cooked or blanched before freezing and this can decrease nutrients, but the process is often quick, reducing significant losses.
Choose frozen foods without added salt and sauces to reduce excess sodium and calories.
Research shows that some nutrients decrease during the slow thawing process so transfer the food straight to the cooking pot or microwave while still frozen.
Many frozen fruits contain sugar so check labels carefully and select unsweetened versions.
Canned fruits and vegetables can be a healthy choice, but cooking and processing times play a role in nutrient content. While this can’t be controlled by the consumer there are a few things you can do to get the most nutrition from canned foods.
Most canned foods contain extra sodium so it is important to select those with labels stating “low sodium” or “no salt added”.
One study showed that rinsing canned foods before cooking can decrease sodium levels by 23 to 45%. The downside is that other minerals often leach into the liquid so you are washing those away too.
Canned fruits may have added sugar. Select those labeled “in own juices” or “unsweetened”, and avoid “in syrup”.
What’s the best?
Despite our desire to know which is the best choice, research shows that nutrients vary in all sources of fruits and vegetables. Some vitamins and minerals are higher in fresh-picked produce while others are better maintained in frozen and canned foods. To complicate things further, it can vary across brands for the same fruit or vegetable. The soil used for growing, how it is harvested, and the exact methods for processing vary so widely that when you compare apples to apples, there is not always a consistent answer for which is healthiest. This is why many experts recommend incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, and canned) into your eating plan.
There is no approved definition for what qualifies as a superfood, but health professionals agree that these foods provide a high level of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (natural, disease-fighting chemicals). Here are a few delicious superfoods to start eating now!
Apples: Apples contain soluble fiber which helps lower cholesterol levels, and insoluble fiber for a healthy digestive system. This fruit is also a source of the antioxidant quercetin, known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Almonds: These nuts are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. They are also a source for the trace minerals manganese and copper, which are essential for energy production.
Avocados: Avocados contain 5 different types of anti-inflammatory nutrients. They are also rich in the carotenoids that we often only associate with orange vegetables.
Barley: The dietary fiber in hulled barley supports healthy bacteria in the intestine. It also contains selenium, a powerful antioxidant for the prevention of cancer and heart disease.
Beets: The betalins in beets are phytonutrients known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties.
Black Beans: Three different antioxidants, called anthocyanins, give black beans their dark color. These beans also contain kaempferol, another antioxidant that reduces the risk for heart disease and cancer.
Blueberries: Ranked as one of the top food sources for antioxidants. Research shows blueberries contain at least 15 beneficial phytonutrients.
Cinnamon: The essential oils in cinnamon bark have been found to reduce inflammation and help with controlling blood sugar. These oils are also anti-microbial, preventing the growth of unhealthy bacteria.
Garlic: Sulfur compounds in garlic can reduce the oxidative stress that leads to blood vessel damage. These compounds have also been found to reduce triglycerides, total cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.
Kale: Researchers have identified over 45 flavonoids (a type of phytonutrient) in kale. As a result, kale has been found to reduce the risk of over 5 types of cancer, and it supports the body’s natural detox system.
Lentils: Lentils are a good source of folate and magnesium, which help to promote heart health. They are also loaded with fiber.
Oranges: Citrus fruits contain vitamin C, but oranges also contain the phytonutrient herperidin that may reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Additionally, oranges contain limonoids, which have been shown to protect against 6 types of cancer.
Red Cabbage: Cabbage contains a compound called sinigrin that has been linked to the prevention of bladder, colon, and prostate cancers. Red cabbage has added benefit due to the presence of anthocyanins, which act as antioxidants that protect against heart disease and cancer.
Sauerkraut: Fermented foods such as sauerkraut contain probiotics (live organisms in food and supplements that benefit health). Probiotics are associated with improved digestion and intestinal health. Sauerkraut is also full of vitamins that may help prevent infection.
Spinach: Researchers have identified over 12 flavonoids in spinach that are anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer. This leafy green is also packed with the antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and manganese.
Sweet Potatoes: Orange-flesh sweet potatoes are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene and purple-flesh sweet potatoes contain the antioxidant anthocyanin. Research shows that sweet potatoes help with blood sugar regulation.
Tomatoes: The numerous phytonutrients in tomatoes are associated with decreased total cholesterol, decreased LDL-cholesterol, decreased triglycerides, and a reduced risk of cancer. More recently, the antioxidant, lycopene, has been linked to improved bone health.
Turmeric: Found in curry powders and yellow mustard, turmeric contains curcumin, which has been found to be as effective for reducing inflammation as some over-the-counter medications.
Walnuts: They are well-known as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but walnuts also contain phytonutrients that are rarely found in other foods. Walnuts have been found to protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
Yogurt: Like sauerkraut, yogurt is a fermented food. Yogurts that contain live and active cultures act as probiotics, which may improve intestinal problems such as lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome.
If you eat a typical western diet, you are likely consuming nearly 50% more sodium than experts recommend. A high-sodium diet can increase your blood pressure putting you at risk for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Here are 6 things you should know about sodium and how to reduce your intake to improve health.
Why Sodium Is Important
Sodium is needed for nerve impulses, muscle contraction, and fluid balance in the cells. Your body needs sodium to be healthy, but it needs much less than the estimated 3,400 mg of sodium that Americans consume every day.
Reasons to Lower Sodium Intake
The current recommended sodium intake is no more than 2,300 mg per day. The American Heart Association and the Harvard School of Public Health suggest that the daily limit be set to 1,500 mg to improve health and reduce healthcare costs.
Why are these lower intakes suggested? Your kidneys process sodium, and when they can’t keep up with the extra sodium you eat, the body holds water to balance the sodium in your system. This is called fluid retention and over time, it can increase blood pressure. Excess sodium can also cause a loss of calcium, which can jeopardize bone health.
Salt and Sodium Sources
It’s estimated that Americans consume 75% of daily sodium from prepared or processed foods. While table salt added during cooking and at the table contributes to sodium intake, it isn’t as concerning as the fast food and snacks that make up a large part of the U.S. diet. The American Heart Association has a list that they call “The Salty Six”. These are the top six foods contributing to excess sodium intake: bread, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches.
Identifying Sodium in Your Food
Table salt is made up of about 40% sodium, but when trying to identify sodium in the foods you eat, it’s important to look for terms beyond just salt. Monosodium glutamate, sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and sodium alginate are a few of the ingredients that tell you if a food is high in sodium.
Easy Ways to Lower Sodium from Foods
Eat more fresh foods and fewer processed foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain very little sodium. Replacing snacks such as pretzels and crackers with a piece of fresh fruit or carrot sticks can greatly reduce the sodium in your diet.
Check labels of packaged foods. There are government rules that define terms used on food packages.
Sodium-free: Fewer than 5 mg of sodium per serving
Very low sodium: No more than 35 mg of sodium per serving
Low sodium: No more than 140 mg of sodium per serving
Reduced-sodium: At least 25% less sodium than the regular version
Easy Ways to Lower Sodium When Cooking
Measure all of the salt you add to food during cooking and at the table. Research shows that most people won’t notice even a 25% reduced sodium level. Get a baseline measurement for how much you add now, and then slowly reduce it an eighth of a teaspoon each time you make a dish until you find a lower salt level that still tastes good to you.
Try sauteing, stir-frying, and roasting. Steaming and microwaving foods can decrease the flavor, tempting you to add more salt.
Rinse and drain canned foods. Tests have shown that when canned beans are rinsed and drained, it can reduce the sodium content up to 40%.
Use more herbs and spices. Garlic powder, curry powder, and smoked paprika have strong, pleasant flavors, which make adding salt unnecessary. A small splash of sesame oil or citrus juice can also add more flavor to your food.