Eat more fiber. You’ve probably heard it before. But do you know why fiber is so good for your health?
Dietary fiber is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. It’s best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But foods containing fiber can provide other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber includes the parts of plant foods your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates, which your body breaks down and absorbs. Fiber isn’t digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon and out of your body.
Fiber is commonly classified as soluble or insoluble.
Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots and barley.
Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber..
Most plant-based foods, such as oatmeal and beans, contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. However, the amount of each type varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.
Benefits of a high-fiber diet
A high-fiber diet has many benefits, which include:
Normalizes bowel movements.
Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it. A bulky stool is easier to pass, decreasing your chance of constipation. If you have loose, watery stools, fiber may help to solidify the stool because it absorbs water and adds bulk to stool.
Helps maintain bowel health.
A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticular disease.
Lowers cholesterol levels.
Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that high-fiber foods may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
Helps control blood sugar levels.
In people with diabetes, fiber, particularly soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Aids in achieving healthy weight.
High-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods, so you’re likely to eat less and stay satisfied longer. In addition they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
How much fiber do you need?
Daily fiber recommendations for adults:
|Age 50 or younger||Age 51 or older|
Your best fiber choices:
Good choices include:
- Whole-grain products
- Nuts and seeds.
Fiber supplements and fortified foods:
Whole foods rather than fiber supplements are generally better. Fiber supplements don’t provide the variety of fibers, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients that foods do.
However, some people may still need a fiber supplement if dietary changes aren’t sufficient or if they have certain medical conditions, such as constipation, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome. Check with your doctor before taking supplements.
Tips for fitting in more fiber within your food:
- For breakfast choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal — 5 or more grams of fiber a serving. Opt for cereals with “whole grain,” “bran” or “fiber” in the name. Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
- Switch to whole grains. Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Look for breads that list whole wheat, whole-wheat flour or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label and have least 2 grams of dietary fiber a serving. And Replace white rice with brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta and bulgur wheat.
- Bulk up baked goods. Substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour when baking. Try adding crushed bran cereal, unprocessed wheat bran or uncooked oatmeal to muffins, cakes and cookies.
- Lean on legumes. Beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of fiber. Add kidney beans to canned soup or a green salad.
- Eat more fruit and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals. Try to eat five or more servings daily.
- Make snacks count. Fresh fruits, raw vegetables, Homemade popcorn and whole-grain crackers are all good choices. An occasional handful of nuts or dried fruits also is a healthy, high-fiber snack.
- Refined or processed foods, such as canned fruits and vegetables, sugary juices, white breads and pastas, and non-whole-grain cereals are lower in fiber. The grain-refining process removes the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which lowers its fiber content.
- Enriched foods have some of the B vitamins and iron back after processing, but not the fiber.
- Another way to get more fiber is to eat foods, such as cereal, granola bars, yogurt, and ice cream, with fiber added.
- High-fiber foods are good for your health. But adding too much fiber too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fiber in your diet gradually over a period of a few weeks. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change.
- Drink plenty of water. Fiber works best when it absorbs water.
Here in Lina’s and Dina’s diet center we offer a balanced diet that has enough dietary fibers to assure you are having the recommended amount for a healthier bowel movement.
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