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Fiber is one of the most common nutrient gaps in firefighter diets. To be fair, fiber can be challenging to get when eating on the go! Fiber is important for prevention of heart disease, cancer, and other metabolic conditions.
Fiber is an indigestible form of carbohydrate, which means fiber does not directly provide calories. There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble Fiber: does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation when consumed with plenty of water.
Sources: whole grains, wheat cereals, and vegetables.
Soluble Fiber: dissolves in water. Soluble fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels and can reduce your total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Sources: barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, apples, berries, citrus fruit, pears.
In general, plant-based foods are highest in fiber and often contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Unfortunately, animal-based foods like meat and dairy contain no fiber. Refined or processed grains are stripped of the brain (the fibrous part of the grain) during processing. This means that white bread, white rice, and pastries are low in fiber, even though they are technically part of the grain family.
4 Reasons to Eat a High Fiber Diet
1) Stay fuller, longer.
Fiber expands in the stomach and provides a feeling of fullness. Having a high fiber snack before a meal or party can reduce how much you eat when out. Try a salad, instant oatmeal, or a glass of Metamucil. Fiber may bind to fat in your digestive system, which can reduce how many calories are absorbed from a high fat meal.
2) Relieve constipation.
When consumed with plenty of water, dietary fiber helps bulk up stools and makes then easier to pass. Drinking hot tea or coffee and taking a short walk may also help with relief.
3) Lower your cholesterol.
Soluble fiber in oats, beans, apples, pears can help lower your cholesterol. Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Aim for 5-10 grams or more of soluble fiber per day to reduce your LDL (“bad” cholesterol). A ½ cup bowl of oatmeal with an apple or banana would reach this goal.
4) Prevent diabetes and even out your blood glucose.
Soluble fiber also helps reduce blood sugar spikes that people with diabetes experience after eating a high carb meal. Having protein and fiber at every meal and snack can help even overall blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c measurements. A diet high in insoluble fiber helps reduce your risk for diabetes.
Women should aim for 20-25 g fiber per day and men should aim for 30-38 g fiber per day. Ideally, fiber would come from food over supplements. Fruits, veggies, and whole grains come with additional vitamins and minerals that are important for promoting firefighter health. If cholesterol or blood glucose is a concern, Metamucil or Benefiber may be used as a tool to help lower those markers. Work with a physician or dietitian to determine the right dose for you.
Need some recipes to boost your fiber intake? Try the citrus black bean salsa!
Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F
Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.