Fiber at the Forefront: With a Wider Variety of Fiber-Rich Foods Available, Older Americans Can Maintain Better Health

By Betsy Mizia
By Betsy Mizia

Taking note of an aging population with more active, longer lives and a keener focus on nutrition, manufacturers have been lining supermarket shelves with a wider variety of products that contain more grains and fiber, including breads, snacks, and cereals. In a recent CNN news report, General Mills spokesperson Kirstie Foster noted that “data shows that some of the highest per capita cereal consumers are among the age of 55 and over.”

Essentially, Americans in the Baby Boomer category have adjusted their diets to a more healthful path, according to the 2009 SymphonyIRI Group report, Baby Boomers II: Preparing for the Upcoming Wave of Aging Shopper Growth.

However, while there are more kinds of of healthful, fiberful foods and snacks now available, eating fiber-rich whole foods is, by far, the best way to increase your fiber intake, opting instead for fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, such as lentils, beans, peas and peanuts. This is because high-fiber foods have been shown to add significant benefits to your overall nutritional health and well being.

Most of us know about the digestive benefits of fiber.  But are you also aware that fiber can help lower the risk of serious conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some cancers?  Still, few of us are getting enough fiber on a regular basis.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANESIII) Study, the fiber intake for older Americans (males and females aged 70 years and older) was 14-16 gpd (grams per day).  Goals for those 51 and older are between 21 gpd (for women) and 30 (for men).  It’s never too late to increase your dietary fiber intake and start a more healthful diet.

By taking advantage of the newer varieties of foods available that spotlight dietary fiber, older Americans can realize a wealth of benefits, including the following:

Regularity and bowel health: A high-fiber diet may lower the risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in the colon (diverticular disease). Some fiber is fermented in the colon and researchers are looking at how this may play a role in preventing diseases of the colon.

Lower cholesterol levels: Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that fiber may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.

Controlled blood sugar levels: In people with diabetes, fiber — particularly soluble fiber — can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels.

Healthy weight maintenance: High-fiber foods generally require more chewing time, which gives the body time to register when you’re no longer hungry, so there is less likelihood of overeating.  Also, a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and linger longer, so one stays full for a longer time, usually consuming fewer calories for the same volume of food.

It’s never been easier to add fiber to your diet and still be able to enjoy your food and meal times!  Be adventurous with new fruits and vegetables you’ve never tasted before, especially when in season. Experiment with spices and herbs in your cooking. Use colorful veggies, such as fresh roasted Brussels sprouts, marinated broccoli stalks, red lentil salads, and orange glazed carrots to dress up your plate. Discover and try new recipes.

Stay on the path to better health by taking advantage of the recent fiber-rich food categories, but also increasing your fiber intake with fresh fruits and veggies. You’ll not only be improving your lifestyle,  you’ll be making a positive impact on your overall health as well. It’s best to add fiber rich sources slowly. “Overdoing” your intake too quickly of any single nutrient or change is not recommended. (Before starting this recommendation or any other change in your diet, please consult your physician.)

With over 30 years experience as a registered dietitian, Betsy Mizia, RD, LDN, is Nutrition Manager at The NBN Group, a home healthcare company, where she manages the nutrition care for clients who are dependent on tubes or lines for their intake. Betsy earned her degree in Dietetics from Indiana Pennsylvania University and served her internship at Massachusetts General Hospital.