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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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House Call: Summer produce easy way to increase fiber in diet

Dr. Bob Riggs, M.D.

One of the things that summertime means to me is an abundance of fresh produce. This has gotten me to thinking a lot about nutrition. It can be hard to know what you should eat, and it sometimes seems like the goal posts get moved pretty frequently.

Something that does not vary much is the amount of fiber you should eat daily. On a given day, the average American eats about 12 grams of fiber. I recommend 30-50 grams of fiber each day. If you do not eat much fiber now, jumping to a lot is likely to cause bloating. A gradual increase over a few weeks is a better approach. The best way to get fiber into your diet is to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and beans. A cup of vegetables has 3-5 grams of fiber, and a cup of beans has up to 14 grams. Four cups of vegetables and a half cup or more of beans daily gives you lots of fiber along with a tremendous amount of nutrients that support good health.

You may be asking to yourself, “How am I supposed to eat all of that?” Given that most of us grew up on cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and meat and potatoes for dinner, that’s a good question. I start most days with 2-3 cups of chopped vegetables, a half cup of beans, and a couple scrambled eggs that my wife and I share. On busy mornings, a smoothie with a cup of frozen berries, yogurt, greens, and some protein powder is a quick and nutritious alternative. I generally eat an apple and an orange or grapefruit during the day, and some kind of meat or fish along with vegetables for supper. I just plain feel better when I eat my 40 grams or so of fiber a day.

One benefit from enough fiber in your diet is that it prevents constipation, which can be mighty uncomfortable. But let’s talk about other benefits of dietary fiber. We used to think that the only products of a healthy gut were what we flush down the toilet. It turns out that bacteria in your large intestine are part of that equation. Fiber nourishes the bacteria that live there: a key part of your microbiome.

A diet including many fiber sources supports a large variety of bacteria, making for a diverse microbiome. This enhances your immune system and reduces risk of metabolic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Our knowledge about the role the microbiome plays in supporting overall health increases daily.

This time of year, my two favorite produce sources are the garden my wife and I planted in the spring and the local farmers markets around town. If we crave something that we didn’t plant, we drop by the farmers market or grocery store for fresh produce. This newspaper publishes a list of farmers markets in the Wednesday edition. If fresh produce is hard on your budget, frozen and canned vegetables are cheaper and nutritious alternatives.

A friend of mine is not much of a gardener, so she gets a weekly vegetable box from one of the local farms. She likes the convenience of not having to decide what to buy. She also enjoys the challenge of finding tasty ways to prepare vegetables that she is not familiar with and new ways to prepare old favorites.

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