the rough stuff

Why you need fiber and where to get it

When you’re pregnant, grandma undoubtedly will want to share lots of advice with you. Though you might want to ignore some of it, listen up when she tells you to eat your roughage. Dietary fiber is especially important during pregnancy, but if you’re a typical American woman, you don’t get enough of the stuff: Most of us get only about 12 to 17 grams of fiber daily, compared with the recommended 25 to 35 grams.

Even though fiber itself is indigestible, fiber-full foods generally are nutritious by nature. Most fruits and vegetables, for example, come packed with vitamins. High-fiber grain products like breads and cereals are fortified with many of the nutrients you and your baby need, including folic acid, the B vitamin that helps prevent neural-tube defects such as spina bifida. Here are some additional reasons to pack plenty of fiber into your pregnancy diet from Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Medical Center in Chicago and a prominent fiber researcher.

It fills you up, not out. High-fiber foods make you feel full longer, which can help you from gaining more than the 25 to 35 pounds recommended for women of normal weight. Foods containing insoluble fiber (the kind that doesn’t dissolve in water, primarily found in wheat bran, whole-grain breads, crackers and breakfast cereals, and most fruits and vegetables) also take longer to chew than many other foods, and eating more slowly often means eating less.

It helps keep you regular. Insoluble fiber sweeps solid waste out of the body, easing constipation (which can be aggravated by prenatal iron supplements) and reducing your chances of developing hemorrhoids.

It helps keep blood-sugar levels stable. Soluble fiber regulates the release of glucose into your blood, which is particularly important for women with gestational diabetes. It also lowers harmful LDL cholesterol levels. Sources of soluble fiber include oats, peas, beans, some fruits and psyllium (a grain found in certain cereal products, dietary supplements and laxatives).

Food is the best source

You may be tempted to rely on a fiber supplement, but check with your doctor first. In any event, you should have no trouble getting the fiber you need from food if you’re eating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables and two to three servings of whole grains as part of your daily six to 11 servings of grains.

Just remember to add fiber to your diet gradually, as increasing your intake too quickly may cause cramping, gas, bloating or diarrhea. And since fiber absorbs water, be sure to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. That’s a must for good health, pregnant or not.