Fiber - what it is, what it does and where to get it

I was recently reminded how confused many people are about what it means to be heart healthy. Over the next few months I want to include blog posts about specific ways to build a heart healthy life. I will also attempt to better explain why prepackaged and processed foods should be avoided - regardless of their health claims.  These will be in addition to my learning-to-cook-adventure and the usual (read: awesome) Oliver meals and garden updates. I thought I'd start where Oliver and I started two years ago: with Fiber. 

When we decided to make a conscious effort to eat healthy I did some research on high fiber foods. On it's most basic level dietary fiber is defined as the edible, yet digestion resistant, portions of plant cell walls. Dietary fiber is then subdivided into soluble and non-soluble. After two years of thinking about their distinctions I've decided that as long as the fiber is coming from a piece of whole (non-processed*) food then I don't bother making a big effort to consume one type over the other. But if you're someone with specific reasons for eating fiber (easing constipation versus lowering cholesterol) then understanding the distinction between the two types is helpful.
  • Soluble fiber is "soluble" in water.  When mixed with water it forms a gel-like substance and swells.  Soluble fiber has many benefits, including moderating blood glucose levels and lowering cholesterol.  
  • Insoluble fiber does not absorb or dissolve in water.  It passes through our digestive system in close to its original form.  Insoluble fiber offers many benefits to intestinal health, including a reduction in the risk and occurrence of colorectal cancer, hemorrhoids, and constipation. (From
Women should get about 25 grams a day and men at least 35 to 40, but the average person gets just 15 grams a day**. There is goods news; a lot of really delicious, real foods are also very high in fiber. People just need to decide to eat them instead of whatever "fake foods" they are chosing to eat instead. The following is a list*** of the best high fiber foods. I'm sure anyone can find at least 5 foods on it they like enough to eat everyday. Some of my favorites include avocado, kale, spinach, sweet potato, almonds, collards, lentils and black beans.

*Non-processed foods includes breakfast cereals. It annoys me that blatantly sugar based cereals are allowed to call themselves good sources of fiber. 
**Carolyn Brown, R.D., a nutritionist at Foodtrainers, in New York City.