Tap into the Power of Fiber

Fiber is a nutrient unlike any other because our bodies can’t digest it. But the common adage that fiber “passes right through you” doesn’t do this health-crusader justice. Fiber plays an active role in controlling hunger and preventing chronic disease.

Before we highlight those benefits, it helps to know that are two types of fiber:

• Soluble fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel-like substance in your stomach and intestines. This gel can bind with unhealthy substances like glucose and cholesterol, carrying them out of your body. Foods higher in soluble fiber include oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples, and blueberries.

• Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It adds filling bulk to food, which helps it move through your digestive system. Foods high in insoluble fibers include intact grains and most vegetables.

It’s important that we include both soluble and insoluble fiber in our diet, every day.  Women should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day and men 38 grams. On average, fewer than 3% of the American population is estimated to meet these recommendations. It’s time to fix that!

The 3 biggest benefits of boosting fiber:

1. Fiber helps prevent chronic disease. The American Dietetic Associate reports that fiber can help prevent type 2 diabetes, and high-fiber diets have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

2. Fiber helps control hunger. Fiber is well-known for increasing “satiety”, which means that it fills you up and keeps you satisfied longer after eating. The reason: Fiber fills your stomach, stimulating the hormone leptin, which signals your brain that you should stop eating.

3. Fiber helps prevents constipation. Fiber helps move things along in two ways: It boosts the size of your stools and makes them softer. Insoluble fiber adds bulk, while soluble fiber improves form and consistency.

Where should you get your fiber? First and foremost, by eating more fruits and vegetables! Second, swap refined grains like white rice, bread, and pasta with intact grains like brown rice and quinoa. And snack on fiber-rich nuts and seeds instead of heavily processed, high-carb options like crackers, cookies, and pretzels.

What about all the cereals and snack bars that tout their high fiber content? These heavily processed foods typically contain “fiber additives” like inulin, maltodextrin, and polydextrose.  There’s no evidence that these substances have the same health benefits as the fiber naturally found in food. Stick with whole-food sources of fiber to protect your health.

A good thing to know if you haven’t been eating much fiber: Bloating, gas, and loose stools can occur if you add a lot of fiber to your diet too quickly. Your digestive tract needs a little time to adjust. When it gets used to fiber, those side-effects will lessen or disappear. Up your fiber intake gradually each day, and drink extra water to aid digestion.

 

 


Sources:

Glycemic index, glycemic load, and dietary fiber intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes in younger and middle-aged women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Aug;80(2):348-56.

Dietary fiber and risk of coronary heart disease: a pooled analysis of cohort studies. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Feb 23;164(4):370-6.

Glycemic index, glycemic load, and dietary fiber intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes in younger and middle-aged women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Aug;80(2):348-56.