On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

Living Healthy After Sixty: Why Oklahoma Seniors Need More Fiber

Fruits? Check. Vegetables? Check. Protein? Check. Fiber? If you’re like most Oklahomans, checking that last one off the list is probably an afterthought. Fiber is an essential nutrient found in plant-based foods, and most of us do not get enough of it. However, fiber can play a vital role not only in our digestive health, but also our overall health, especially in older adults.

Fiber can help combat heart disease

Consuming a diet rich in plant-based, high-fiber foods has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, and even cholesterol deposits in the walls of our arteries, which can lead to heart disease. Oklahoma has the third-highest rate of death from heart disease in the nation, so increasing fiber intake is crucial to improving our health statewide. High-fiber foods also tend to be more filling yet lower in calories, and may deter the absorption of dietary fat, which can be helpful for weight management. It’s no secret that obesity and heart disease are strongly correlated, so simply adding more fiber to your diet is a practical way to help combat both issues.

Fiber’s other preventive benefits

For the 1 in 10 adults in Oklahoma living with diabetes, fiber can help regulate blood sugar levels because it helps delay glucose absorption into the blood. In addition, consuming ample dietary fiber is correlated with lower risk for developing colon cancer. Fiber plays an important role in optimal intestinal function, helping to ease symptoms of constipation, frequent diarrhea and gas.

How Much Fiber Do I Need?

Fiber needs correlate with activity level, so the daily intake recommendations drop from 25 grams for middle-aged women and 38 grams for middle-aged men to 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men older than 50, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, this doesn’t mean that fiber is any less crucial to overall health for seniors – especially for those who remain active. In fact, the National Fiber Council says that only 1 in 10 American adults consumes the recommended amount. Knowing which foods are high in fiber is essential.

Men older than 50 need 30 grams of fiber per day, while women older than 50 need 21 grams.

Ways to increase your fiber intake

  • Consider whole grain cereal. Be mindful of sugar content in breakfast cereals.
  • Leave the skin on fruits. Eat the whole fruit rather than drinking juice.
  • Cook your produce in a way that preserves the most nutritional value.
  • Try nuts and seeds as snacks and toppings.
  • Use whole-grain breads for sandwiches.
  • Know that most meat products contain little to no dietary fiber.
  • Increase water intake as you consume more fiber to prevent bloating and stomach pain.
By choosing natural plant-based, high-fiber food sources, you should be able to meet your fiber needs without supplements, but consult your physician if you feel you aren’t getting enough fiber through diet alone. From our friends at Full Plate Living, here is a great list of foods that are high in fiber. Want to know more? The INTEGRIS Third Age Life Center offers free resources for seniors in the Oklahoma City area, including nutrition and general health classes. Contact one of the two OKC locations today for more information.

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