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Getting The Right Fiber

It's not just older adults who need to worry about having lots of fiber in their diet. The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall says fiber should be a staple of everyone's diet.

She says fiber is essential. Not only does it keep the digestive system running smoothly, but studies have shown that it can reduce the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, colon cancer and high cholesterol.

According to the Institute of Medicine, adult woman under age 50 require 25 grams of fiber a day. Men under 50 require about 38 grams per day.

People need less fiber as they grow older because, in general, older adults don't require as many calories a day since they are often less active. If you are an active senior, however, Marshall says you need to speak with your doctor to make sure you are getting enough fiber.

We often hear about two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It passes through your gastrointestinal tract without being digested. So it helps move things through your intestines more quickly. It's very good at promoting regularity.

Soluble fiber does dissolve in water. It stays in your system longer so it can be very helpful for people who find themselves going to the bathroom too much.

Marshall says bran, whole wheat, fruit with peel and baked potato with skin are excellent sources of insoluble fiber:

Bran can be obtained from cereals or breads; and whole wheat can come from crackers, cereal or bread. And, Marshall adds, it's important to eat peels to get the insoluble fiber from fruits. So don't cut the skin off an apple. The same thing goes for a baked potato.

Good sources of soluble fiber are oats, beans, citrus fruits and dried fruits.

Marshall says it's always best to get fiber from food, but sometimes people don't eat enough fiber-rich food, so there are a number of fiber supplements available on the market.

The most popular is Metamucil, which is made from psyllium husks. It can be taken in powder, pill or biscuit form. Another popular brand is Citrucil, which is made from methylcellulose, a non-allergenic fiber. It can be taken in powder and pill form. Marshall explains some people prefer this brand because it doesn't cause as much excess gas as some other products.

It's always a good idea to check with your doctor before taking fiber supplements, according to Marshall, because there are some medicines that don't interact well with the supplements. She says it's also very important to begin taking fiber supplements slowly.

Your body needs time to adjust to fiber supplements — taking too much too quickly can cause a great deal of discomfort. And Marshall says it's very important to drink lots of water when taking fiber supplements. Failure to do so can block your throat and cause choking.

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