Fiber is the part of plant-based foods that your body can't break down. It passes through the digestive tract mostly intact, but that doesn't mean it's not needed. In fact, fiber is essential for a healthy digestive system. Fiber can also help women over 40 lose or maintain weight, and help to prevent cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
Recommended Amounts and Sources
Women over 40 need as much fiber as younger women, until the age of 50. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggests all women consume at least 25 grams per day until age 50, then the recommendation goes down to 21 grams. You'll find fiber in most plant-based foods, including legumes, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Fiber is also available as a dietary supplement.
Fiber and Weight Loss
Women over 40 often have difficulty losing weight, and while following a diet with the right number of calories is essential for weight loss, increasing fiber intake might make it easier. An article published in 2005 in the journal "Nutrition" says that people who eat diets higher in fiber tend to weigh less than people who eat a low-fiber diet. This may be due to the fact that high-fiber foods are often lower in calories and that fiber helps keep you feeling full longer after meals.
Additional Health Benefits
Fiber helps keep your digestive tract healthy by adding bulk to stool so you'll have more frequent bowel movements that are also easier to pass. A high-fiber diet can help prevent or treat constipation. Eating a high-fiber diet is also linked to a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, possibly because a high-fiber diet helps prevent metabolic syndrome, a disorder that includes high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, excess weight and low HDL cholesterol – the "good" cholesterol.
Tips for Increasing Fiber
Choose high-fiber breakfast cereals such as bran or oats. Eat fresh fruits as snacks instead of candy bars and include a green salad with vegetables for lunch. High-fiber dinner ideas include vegetarian dishes made with legumes such as lentils, navy, black or pinto beans. Choose 100 percent whole-grain breads and cereals instead of refined-grain products. Fiber supplements can also increase your fiber intake, but it's a good idea to speak with your health care provider first, and follow the dosage directions.