Fiber plays such an important role in your digestive, heart, and skin health, it may also improve blood sugar control, weight management, and more. Buy why do most Americans consume less than half of of the fiber they need for a healthy inside? In this article I explore the benefits of a high fiber diet and how you can get started reaping the rewards for a healthier longer life.
Getting Acquainted – What is Fiber?
It sounds almost counterproductive, but unlike other nutrients; when we eat fiber, it is not absorbed into our bodies. So what is its purpose, and why should we make special attempts to add it to our diet?
Fiber is sometimes called bulk or roughage because it is the part of foods derived from plants which your body cannot absorb through digestion. It is not broken down and sent throughout the bloodstream. Instead, it remains mostly intact as it passes through the intestinal tract. While it leaves in very much the same shape as it entered, it is really hard at work to serve a very valuable purpose during the process from mouth to waste.
The dictionary describes fiber as: Dietary material containing substances such as cellulose, lignin, and pectin, which are resistant to the action of digestive enzymes.
In other words, fiber acts like a garbage collector or a cleaning sponge. As it moves through the body’s intestinal tract, it gathers up and absorbs toxins to remove them from the body and then dumps them as waste.
Researchers have discovered that fiber acts as a sponge as it moves through the digestive tract pulling out excess hormones, fat, cholesterol, and other toxins from the body while taking on excess water to form a bulky waste product that is easily dispelled, even making you feel full and alleviating constipation and other digestive discomforts.
Benefits of Fiber:
Probiotic Booster – Fiber feeds the probiotics in your gut. These are the good bacteria made up of 100 trillion microbes that go to war to defend your body against unhealthy attacks. By feeding these probiotics with fiber, you are boosting your immune system, and in turn, helping to prevent disease.
A Healthier You – Diets that are rich in fiber show a decrease in the risk of life-threatening diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
Regulates Blood Sugar – Fiber helps to stabilize blood sugar and slow down the absorption of sugar that would otherwise run rampant in your bloodstream throughout the body.
No Painful Stones – Because fiber helps to regulate blood sugar, it has a hidden benefit of lowering the risk for gallstone or kidney stones that are formed when blood sugar is out of control with insulin spikes that can trigger the growth of these stones.
Weight Loss – Fiber helps to maintain a healthy weight and is beneficial in weight loss and controlling appetite, because it makes you feel full.
Get the Kinks Out – It helps to avoid the risk of diverticulitis which happens when pockets develop in the intestinal tract that allows the intestines to bend and kink.
Prevent Cancer – It helps to reduce the risk of some forms of cancer, including not only colon but breast cancer as well.
Chew on This – One reason fiber helps in losing or maintaining a healthy weight is because it is a low-calorie dense food, meaning it provides more for the amount of calories than other foods might. Another reason is because high-fiber foods usually take longer to chew, so your body begins to send signals that you are beginning to get full before you are done chewing.
Helps Digestion – Because fiber absorbs excess water, it adds bulk to the stool waste that is formed inside the intestinal tract, it’s easier to move through the intestines causing less bloating or gas and so easing to digestion disorders. It also helps prevent hemorrhoids.
Healthy Cardiovascular System – Fiber is like a tiny sponge that moves through the digestive tract absorbing and removing unhealthy things that get in its path, like excess water, fats, and bile salts. It then sends them out of the body through the digestive system instead of allowing them to go through the bloodstream. One of the healthy results of this process is that fiber helps to remove artery-clogging cholesterol, known as bad LDL cholesterol. Researchers have even discovered that increasing the amount of fiber has a direct correlation with decreasing your risk for suffering a stroke. In those who have had a stroke, fiber has been shown to be helpful in lessening the severity and quickening recovery time.
That Healthy Glow – Fiber helps your skin to be healthy by ridding it of yeast and fungi that set the stage for rashes and acne.
How Much Fiber Do We Need?
We need approximately 20 to 30 grams or more fiber daily. Most Americans don’t even get close to 15 grams per day. The Institute of Medicine suggests that men age 50 or younger need approximately 38 grams of fiber per day, and those 51 or older need about 30 grams a day. Women age 50 or younger need about 25 grams per day, while women 51 or older need approximately 21 grams every day.
Two Types of Fiber
There are two types of fiber that need to be included in a healthy daily diet. Fiber is either insoluble, which means it does not dissolve in water; or, it is soluble, meaning it does dissolve. Many whole foods, that contain fiber naturally, include both soluble and insoluble fiber.
- Insoluble fiber – This kind of fiber adds bulk that is needed for colon health and cleansing. It also gives you a feeling of fullness as it absorbs water and toxins and moves them out of your body.
- Soluble fiber – This kind is found in vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, brown rice, bran, and oats. It mixes with water and the digestive enzymes that the liver manufactures to form a gel that reduces absorption of harmful substances, reduces cholesterol, and controls blood sugar.
How To Get More Fiber in Your Diet
The best way to add healthy fiber to your diet is to eat whole foods. Add a serving or more of fruits and vegetables to every meal. Eat whole grain cereal, pasta, or bread instead of overly processed or refined options. However, try to get most of your fiber from green leafy vegetables and fruits. Don’t peel fruits and vegetables, though, because much of the fiber-rich benefits rest in the skins. Add legumes, including beans, along with some nuts and seeds to your diet.
It’s best if you receive the fiber your body needs through foods, but there are fiber supplements available that provide some benefit.
Fiber Needs Water to Work at its Peak
Regardless of whether you get your fiber from your natural diet or through a supplement, you’re also going to need to start drinking more water. Fiber and water are friends who work well together, because the fiber wants to absorb everything in its path. If you give it water to absorb, the fiber will bulk up and move other toxins out of the body along with it when it leaves.
Allow Time for Adjusting to the Newly Added Fiber
It’s best to start slowly and work up to adding the sufficient amounts of fiber to your diet so that the bacteria in your gut have a chance to adapt to the change. Assuming you are generally healthy when you begin adding fiber to your diet, don’t be discouraged if you end up needing to have a bathroom nearby. Like with most changes in diet, there is often an adjustment period where your body may even appear to have revolted a bit. Reacting contrary to what you intended, with intestinal gas, bloating, and even diarrhea. This is most likely just a temporary adjustment issue that will improve as your body adjusts.