What Is Dietary Fiber And Why Do We Need It?

Dietary fiber is more important to your health than you may think.

“Fiber is good for you.”

“Eat more fiber.”

You hear a lot about dietary fiber these days, but why is it so good for you? If you know anything about fiber, you know it works to keep you regular and relieve constipation, but you may be surprised at all the other health benefits it provides.

Dietary fiber is found in all plant foods. Your body can’t digest fiber like it does proteins, carbohydrates, and fat, so it passes through your digestive system intact.

There are two types of fiber: soluble (partially dissolves in water to a gel-like consistency) and insoluble (resists digestion and doesn’t dissolve in water). Most plant-based foods contain both kinds of fiber and each offers valuable health benefits. Foods rich in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts.

How many reasons should you eat fiber? Here are six to get you started.

Reason 1: Regularity

The number one reason why people think they need fiber is to keep things moving smoothly and regularly. Fiber is a natural laxative that keeps your stool bulky, soft, and easier to pass. Fiber also helps harden stool that may be too loose or watery. Avoid constipation or painful bowel movements by eating a diet high of fiber.

Reason 2: A Healthy Colon

Normal bowel movements decrease your risk of colon problems. Painful conditions such as hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, colon cancer, and other diseases of the colon are less likely when one eats plenty of fiber.

Reason 3: Balanced Blood Sugar

Soluble fiber slows digestion so food stays in your stomach for longer. This means sugar isn’t absorbed as quickly, excess insulin isn’t released, and your blood sugar levels are kept in check. A diet high in fiber reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Reason 4: Lowered Cholesterol

High cholesterol is a main risk factor for heart disease. As fiber moves through the digestive system, LDL (bad) cholesterol is removed from your blood and your heart is protected. Increase your soluble fiber by 5 or 10 grams a day to reduce your total cholesterol by 5 percent.

Reason 5: A Healthy Heart

Protect the health of your heart and circulatory system with fiber. Besides lowering cholesterol, fiber has the effect of reducing blood pressure and inflammation. Studies have revealed a connection between a high fiber diet and a 40-percent reduction in your risk for heart disease. In addition, the more fiber you eat the lower your risk for stroke. Not a bad trade-off!

Reason 6: Weight Loss

Maintain a healthy weight or shed unwanted pounds by eating a diet rich in fiber. Fiber helps you lose weight in several ways. First, high-fiber foods take longer to chew, so you eat slower. This extra time gives your body a chance to tell your brain that it’s time to stop eating.

Second, foods rich in fiber are lower in calories than equal amounts of other foods. This means you can fill up while eating fewer calories.

Third, fiber stays in your stomach longer and makes you feel fuller. This curbs your appetite and protects against overeating. Include a source of fiber at each meal and snack and you’ll eat less because you stay satisfied for longer.

How Much Is Enough?

Now that you know you need fiber, you may be wondering just how much you need. Wonder no more.

Women age 50 or younger should eat 25 grams of fiber a day. Women over 51 need 21 grams. Men age 50 or younger should eat 38 grams and men over age 51 need 30 grams.

What does this look like? One medium apple contains 4 grams of fiber, one cup of cooked black beans contains 19.4 grams, two slices of whole wheat bread has 6 grams, half a cup of raw broccoli contains 4 grams, and three-fourths a cup of oatmeal has more than 7 grams.

Now…get to eating!

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