Fiber is an often-joked about food that facilitates your bathroom visits, but it does so much more than keeping you regular. It’s a necessary component of a healthy, balanced diet because it does a lot of good for your entire body.
To learn more about the yummy benefits of fiber, along with its best and worst food sources, keep reading.
What is Fiber?
You’re probably already familiar with the three, essential nutrient groups: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Fibers belong to the carbohydrate group. However, your body doesn’t break these carbohydrates down into sugar molecules. To be honest, your body doesn’t break them down very much, period.
When it comes to fibers, they stay pretty much unchanged from the time you consume them to the time you eliminate them.
Fiber, itself, is present in all plants (but not animals!) and it’s a building block for plant molecules. Since it can’t be digested, it’s practically a zero-calorie food.
Soluble Fiber versus Insoluble Fiber
Even though fiber doesn’t break down a whole lot in your body’s digestion system, the fiber itself can be divided into two main groups: soluble and insoluble fiber. What’s the difference?
According to the dietitian, Paige Smathers, soluble fiber dissolves in water, whereas insoluble fiber doesn’t it. You can find soluble fibers in things like gum, pectin and mucilage will all dissolve in water.
What’s so great about this dissolvable form of fiber? Among other things, it helps to keep blood sugar levels in check, along with blood cholesterol levels.
As for insoluble fibers, since they don’t dissolve, but stay more or less intact in your digestive track, they help to keep things moving along in your digestive system. You can think of insoluble fibers as the train conductor, keeping everything on schedule.
The Mayo Clinic shares that the majority of plant-based foods have insoluble fibers, but we’ll go into all of that later!
The Benefits of Dietary Fiber and Why You Need More of It
Now, if you’re like most Americans, you’re probably not getting enough fiber. In fact, one source said that fewer than three percent of Americans get enough fiber on a daily basis.
Another source is a little more optimistic, saying that five percent of Americans get enough fiber. Either way, the numbers are bleak.
So, if you fall into the majority, keep reading to learn why this neglected nutrient is so important for your health and wellness.
Dietary Fiber Improves Digestion
Since insoluble fiber is not broken down during digestion, they support healthy, efficient and swift digestion. Because they help push foods all the way to final elimination, they help to prevent toxicity within the body.
They also help the good bacteria in your gut to thrive. Finally, they help to prevent constipation. You can imagine fiber as the broom or brush of the digestive tract, sweeping things through and preventing the dangerous build-up of waste and toxins.
Dietary Fiber Can Support a Healthy Weight
Fiber is a great tool for losing weight and maintaining a healthy size for two main reasons.
Firstly, since it’s a bit bulky, it helps you feel full more quickly. So, when combined with healthy fats and proteins, it can keep you feeling satiated for longer.
Secondly, because the body doesn’t break down this carbohydrate into sugars, and since fiber remains relatively intact from top to bottom, there are virtually no calories in it.
All in all, it’s a healthy food that helps you feel full while keeping your caloric intake to a minimum.
Dietary Fiber Works Against Diabetic Symptoms
As you know, there are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. The wonderful benefit of soluble fiber is that it helps your body digest food at a more reasonable speed.
That means, your blood sugar levels don’t skyrocket. When you include fiber in your meals, you can even lower the Glycemic index of that dish.
Dietary Fiber Helps to Prevent Cancer
It’s amazing to think that something as simple and humble as celery or lettuce can fight cancer, but it’s true.
By upping your insoluble fiber intake, you help to keep your colon clean. This, in turn, prevents colon cancer, and other digestive disorders.
Good Dietary Forms of Fiber
Now that you know about just some of the amazing benefits of dietary fiber, it’s time to find out where you can get your hands on this power-packed nutrient.
Here are some of the best fiber foods you can add to your grocery list:
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Asian Pears
- Split Peas
- Black Beans
- Lima Beans
- Acorn Squash
- Brussels Sprouts
- Unrefined grains, like wheat, barley, oatmeal, corn, and brown rice
The great thing about each and every food listed above is that it’s not just a high-fiber food. Each food comes packed with vitamins, minerals and so many other wonderful properties that support a healthier you.
Bad Dietary Forms of Fiber
There are so many delicious options to help keep your diet high in fiber without having to resort to boring meals. These tasty foods can also help you steer clear of bad dietary fiber options. Here’s what you should avoid:
- Refined and processed grains/cereals with added fiber
- Yogurts with added fibers
- Protein bars
- Fiber supplements, especially those including ingredients like methylcellulose, calcium polycarbophil, and wheat dextrin.
Instead of eating fiber from processed, refined and questionable foods, it’s always better to obtain your fiber from whole foods.
Daily Recommendations for Fiber
So, just how much fiber should you eat on a daily basis? Both men and women should aim for a minimum of 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day.
That might seem like a lot, but by adding more fruits and vegetables (like the ones listed above) and by cutting back on refined and processed foods, you can easily meet your daily requirement.
Can You Ever Eat Too Much Fiber?
Since at least 90 percent of Americans aren’t consuming enough fiber, you’re probably not overdoing it. But in an effort to up your fiber intake, you can run the risk of introducing too much fiber too soon.
If you do, you can experience some uncomfortable symptoms, like:
- Bloating and gas
- Stomach discomfort and pain
Fibers support your body’s health and wellbeing in many ways. And as you can see, there are many great foods you can eat to increase your daily intake.
Just remember to increase your fiber intake gradually so that your body can adjust without feeling uncomfortable.