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Ways to get your family to eat more fiber

Published July 28. 2012 09:01AM

10, 13, 15, 28, 38: No, these are not the numbers of last night's Cash 5 drawing.

They are amounts of fiber in grams. The last two, 28 and 38, are what the United States Department of Agriculture determines to be sufficient daily amounts for females and males.

The first two, 10 and 13, are what a study done at Georgia Health Sciences University found female and male teenagers ingest. The middle number, 15, is the USDA's estimate for the average American.

You probably don't need a calculator to recognize that these numbers mean most people come nowhere close to eating a sufficient not even an optimal! amount of fiber each day. In fact, the the rate is one in every 20.

This column will explicate the seemingly lost art of incorporating ample fiber in your diet, something that certainly makes horse sense (and health senses) for you to do.

But first, here's just some of the good that happens when you fill up on fiber, the non-digestible portion of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Because you can't digest it, you get, in a sense, free calories.

For proof, check out the Nutrition Facts panel of a first-rate fiber food, Original Fiber One cereal.

You might think there's a typo because a half-cup serving yields 60 total calories and 25 grams of total carbohydrates, a mathematical impossibility since each gram of carbohydrates equals 4 calories.

But 14 of those grams are dietary fiber, meaning they pass through your system intact, so the 60-calories-per-serving listing is accurate.

The total of 60 comes from the 44 or so carb cals that can be digested along with approximately 8 calories of protein and 10 calories of fat. (The numbers exceed 60 because food producers are permitted to use whole numbers on Nutrition Facts panels.)

But eating fiber actually saves more calories than that.

As insoluble fiber, the type found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans, passes through your digestive tract, some digestible carbs and fat do the same and never get digested.

One USDA study, in fact, found those who consumed 36 grams of fiber each day did not digest another 130 calories in addition to the 144 fiber cals, creating 274 "free" calories the equivalent to a 2.13-ounce Three Musketeers bar and a little lollipop your kids get at the bank.

Combine the benefit of "free" calories with the fact that fiber expands in the digestive tract to make you feel full, and it's easy to see how eating lots of the stuff allows you maintain a healthy body weight.

But according the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article cited and last week's column and an Archives of Internal Medicine article from February 2011, eating lots also helps you live longer.

So why don't more people make sure they consume 40 or 50 grams of fiber each day? It really isn't hard to do especially if you make sure you eat a high-fiber cereal for breakfast.

The best known of the bunch, Original Fiber One, contains 14 grams of fiber in the serving size listed on the Nutrition Facts panel, but a half-cup serving is a unnaturally small amount.

Most people who just pour the cereal straight into the cereal bowl without measuring and then add milk eat at least twice that amount, which already covers 80 percent of the USDA's Adequate Intake for males and 100 percent for females.

But don't feel the need to eat high-fiber cereal with milk or use Original Fiber One. I mix high-fiber cereal with yogurt and use Fiber Select produced by Giant. It's cheaper, contains the same amount of fiber in 10 fewer calories, and I prefer the taste, especially when I eat it dry in a mix with other cereals as an after-supper snack.

It's also an ingredient in a mixture I make two or three times a day that reminds me of a supersized, chocolate ice cream sandwich, so typically I get 63 grams of fiber each day just through using this single cereal.

While you'll probably not use as much of it, high-fiber cereal can also serve as breading to make such items as baked onion rings and eggplant parmesan.

Adding beans to soups, stews, and salads also increases your daily fiber ingestion. Beans have at least 12 grams of fiber per cup, with both navy and white bean containing 7 more than that.

Increasing your fiber intake can even work if you're a meat-and-potatoes type of guy. That's because one type of potato, the baked potato, is a significant source of fiber. Eat a big one with lunch or supper and you'll probably get 5 grams. Add a cup of steamed broccoli or cauliflower to your plate to get another 5.

As you can see, if you're conscious of your fiber intake, the grams quickly add up. Most days, I get more than 100 grams.

Eating fruits increases your amount. Here are a few that contain notable amounts of fiber: a medium orange, 3 grams; a medium apple, 4; a medium pear, 6; a cup of strawberries, 3; a cup of blueberries, 4; a cup of raspberries, 8; a half cup of dried peaches, 6; a half cup of dried prunes, 6; a half cup of dried figs, 8.

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