When cancer touches our lives, eating a healthy diet becomes more of a priority. As a cancer center dietitian, I help people eat to fuel the fight and help them determine how eating well translates to food choices and meal plans that fit into a busy life. I am enthusiastic about eating and cooking, believing all foods can fit into a healthy diet.Â It is about balance and moderation. Creating a pattern that includes all the good fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats while moderating the amount of chocolate, baked goods, alcohol and other foods we like to indulge in.
Patients often get focused on small components of the diet that look promising. I try to gear them towards whole foods and meals.Â As I study the diet and cancer relationship, I see that working towards the daily goal for dietary fiber can improve the diet significantly while reducing risk and complications of many diseases. So letâ€™s talk fiber.
What is fiber?
The carbohydrate in plant foods that our body does not digest, commonly called roughage or bulk.Â There are two types of fiber: water soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water in the gut, helping lower cholesterol. Mostly found in oats, apples, peas, bananas and beans.Â Insoluble fiber works like a broom cleaning out the colon, found in nuts and seeds, whole wheat and leafy green vegetables.
Reasons to add fiber to your diet
- Reduce your risk of cancer, specifically cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon, rectum and stomach.
- Lower your blood cholesterol by including foods rich in soluble fiber, which bind fats in the blood stream and digestive system.
- Lower your blood sugar and the risk of developing diabetes.
- Reduce constipation and harmful substances in the colon.
- Help maintain a healthy weight by slowing digestion, so you feel fuller longer
- Strengthen your immune system, the digestion of fiber feeds the good bacteria in the colon.
- Reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by reducing inflammation.
It is important to gradually increase the amount of fiber in your diet over 3 weeks and drink plenty of water.
When it comes to getting enough fiber in our diets, most of us fall short. But it's easier than you think to eat the recommended daily intake. Best sources of dietary fiber include tasty foods such as nuts, seeds, beans, wheat bran, fruits and vegetables. I challenge you to count fiber grams and meet the goal.
Tips for fitting in more fiber:
- Include a high fiber cereal in the morning or as a snack. Include fresh berries or dried fruit.
- Add seeds to your diet, such as ground flax meal or chia seeds. Easily added to yogurt, smoothies and baked goods.
- Snack on nuts, specifically almonds, pecans or walnuts.
- Eat a large salad with multiple raw vegetables. Mix up the salad greens and seasonal vegetables.
- Use beans as a side dish, quickly sautÃ© onions and peppers, stir in beans and seasonings. Try adding beans and lentils to salads, soups and stews.
- IncludeÂ 5 or more fruits and vegetables per day, eat the skins
Heather Lutz, MS, RD, CSO, Medical Nutrition Therapist, is an important part of our commitment to comprehensive care. Since illness and its treatment can make it difficult to eat and to maintain a healthy weight, Heather is on hand to educate patients about their particular nutritional needs.