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The Importance of Fiber

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.  Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States that affects both men and women. Approximately 47 percent of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented by eating healthy, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight. Eating fiber rich foods is strongly associated with a reduced colon cancer risk.  American guidelines recommend 22-32 grams of fiber a day and most Americans are only eating about 15 grams a day.

First off, what is fiber?  Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest, it passes through the body undigested but plays a critical role in our gut flora.  Fiber helps regulate our body’s use of sugars helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check. A proper diet with adequate amounts of fiber will help to reduce the risk of developing many unwanted conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer, digestive issues, inflammation and proper elimination of waste material.

It is important to note there’s two different kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water.  Soluble fiber acts like a sponge inside the body that swells up and forms a gel-like substance absorbing the water you drink, water being a key component. Insoluble fiber, or roughage, sweeps through the body like a broom helping to maintain regularity. 

At this point you might be thinking that you need to take a fiber supplement but we can easily use our food as medicine! Good food is good medicine. Doesn’t that sound much more delicious?!  As a mother of two boys, I’ve attacked this issue in a much more beneficial manner that has long-lasting results and delivers healthy habit change.  

Let us take a look as just a few of the ways that we can incorporate more fiber into our diets.  Always the most important, whole grains are a must as opposed to anything refined. I’m talking about whole wheat breads, pitas, rice, muffins, pancakes, tortillas, pasta.  Keep a bowl of fruit on the counter for the first snack choice and eat those peels, too, where fiber hangs out. Eating whole fruit is better than drinking fruit juice. The same goes for the long list of vegetables, preferably organic, that can be eaten whole for optimum results.  Beans, legumes and nuts are also vital. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But now we’re thinking about how we’re going to incorporate these things into real food sources that are going to fill us up for proper meal planning.

One of my very best ways of getting the proper amount of vegetables comes from using the pulp leftover when juicing.  This is where the fiber resides and it’s so easy to cook with. I love to put this in just about every sauce where it hides out giving a fantastic nutritional boost -- spaghetti sauce, chili, soup, pizza sauce, healthy dips, homemade crackers and chips, fruit leather, muffins, breads and smoothies.  The possibilities are endless! Vegetable pulp is such a creative way to add fiber, antioxidants and other healthy nutrients into our diets while also reducing food waste, a win-win. It’s also a fantastic sneaky way to slip undetected into finicky eaters. The pulp basically takes on the taste of whatever you put it in.  This process has played a huge role in nourishing my own sons, one of whom is special needs and can be quite challenging to cook for. Do you want to see some recipes? I have them!

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