The many benefits of fiber
You’ve heard that fiber is important to your health, right? Do you know WHY it’s so important? Or how to get enough of it? There’s so much information out there – internet, healthcare professionals, friends. Here’s the basics on fiber.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is also called roughage and includes the parts of plants that your body cannot digest. So, it passes through the body in pretty much the same form it enters. There are two types of fiber: Soluble and Insoluble. A teacher once told me to think of soluble fiber like a sponge. It absorbs toxins and makes you feel full. This same teacher said to think of insoluble fiber like a broom. One of the benefits of fiber is it sweeps or moves stool out of the body.
Why Do I Need It?
I find that I’m more likely to adopt a healthy habit when I understand why or how it will benefit me (and my family). The benefits of fiber to the body are countless:
- Aids bowel movements – fiber increases the weight and size of stool making it easier to pass
- Improves bowel health – reduces the risk of developing hemorrhoids and pouches in the colon (diverticular disease) and reduces the risk of colon cancer
- Lowers cholesterol levels – fiber found in particular foods such as beans, oats and flaxseed may help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol
- Helps control blood sugar levels – if you have diabetes, soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and improve blood sugar levels
- Aids in achieving / maintaining healthy weight – fiber takes more time to chew and it helps you feel full sooner and longer because it’s filling not fattening
How Much Should I Have?
Here’s a simple chart from the Institute of Medicine in 2012:
|Age 50 or younger||Age 51 or older|
|Men||38 grams per day||30 grams per day|
|Women||25 grams per day||21 grams per day|
If you fall short of the recommended amount, then gradually increase your fiber intake to reduce the likelihood of gas and bloating. Drink plenty of water too. Your body will adjust over time.
What Foods Contain It?
- Whole-grain products (look for whole wheat as first ingredient)
- Beans, peas and other legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Popcorn (one of my favorites!)
- Brown Rice
Beware of products boasting of high fiber content. Some products such as fiber breakfast bars are highly processed and contain undesirable ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup. Try to eat foods as close to their natural state as possible.
What about Supplements?
Just like a Vitamin C tablet doesn’t compare to the benefits of eating an orange, the same is true of fiber supplements not supplying the benefits of fiber you get from eating foods that naturally contain it. Fiber supplements do not replace the benefits of fiber rich food.
Now you know the benefits of fiber to your health. It’s in a variety of foods making it easy to get enough each day. With a little planning here and a food swap or two there, you’ll be consuming the fiber your body needs to keep you feeling good.
Here’s to Your Health,
- “Dietary Fiber: Essential for a healthy diet” by Mayo Clinic Staff, www.mayoclinic.org.
- Sears, William, MD, Prime Time Health, 2010.
- “What Are the Best Sources of Fiber” from www.ehealthmd.com.
- “7 Health Benefits of Fiber” from www.askdrsears.com.
Cindy has been sharing the power of good nutrition with families for over five years. She became a Dr. Sears Certified Health Coach in 2012 and enjoys sharing the power of nutrition and helping change lives for the better. She posts tips on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LEANHealthforLife. Cindy lives in the Atlanta area with her family.