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January is Fiber Focus Month! Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body cannot digest, or break down, yet it is an important nutrient that has a number of health benefits. During January, the School Nutrition Program (SNP) is promoting the importance of fiber to Newton County School System (NCSS) students in school cafeterias. Students will see facts about fiber including health benefits and where to find foods that contain fiber displayed on bulletin boards and cafeteria serving lines. Serving line signage will highlight fiber containing foods offered on school lunch menus including fruits, vegetables, and whole grain rich items.                

Dietary fiber, or fiber that is naturally present in foods, is found in plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans. Fruits such as berries, apples, bananas, and pears, and vegetables such as green peas, broccoli, and turnip greens are good sources of fiber. Whole grains such as whole wheat bread, whole grain spaghetti, brown rice, and popcorn are also sources of fiber. In contrast, refined grains such as white bread, regular spaghetti, and white rice contain very little fiber because it is removed during processing. Beans and peas such as lentils, black beans, and split peas are excellent sources of fiber, with around 5-8 grams per half cup serving.

Probably, the most widely recognized benefit of fiber is its ability to promote good digestion. However, dietary fiber has also been associated with reduced risks of several chronic diseases and conditions including diabetes, certain types of cancer, high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity. With the recent focus on combating childhood obesity, it is important to note that eating a diet rich in fiber containing foods could be a strategy to help children and adolescents maintain a healthy weight.  In general, when you eat fiber containing foods you feel full sooner and stay full longer, thereby reducing your chances of overeating, which can lead to weight gain.

Despite the health benefits of fiber, the average American consumes only around half of his/her recommended intake. The Institute of Medicine provides general recommendations for Americans for daily fiber intake according to age and gender. Recommendations range from 19 grams per day for small children to 38 grams per day for adolescent and adult men. As a general rule, a person should aim to get 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories they consume per day. Thus, a person eating a 2,000 calorie diet should aim to consume 28 grams of fiber per day.

Simple changes can go a long way to add fiber your diet. For instance, try adding vegetables to pizza and pasta dishes, choosing fruit instead of fruit juice, including beans in soups and stews, and choosing whole grain varieties of breads, cereals, and pastas instead of refined grains. It is generally recommended to increase fiber intake gradually, adding a few grams of fiber per day, to avoid stomach discomfort, and to drink plenty of water. For more information on how to eat more whole grains, visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate website at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains-tips.html.

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For more information or references, contact Brittany Bingeman, SNP Wellness Coordinator, at bingeman.brittany@newton.k12.ga.us or 770-784-4966.