Fiber, which is usually found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and peas, is probably best known for its ability to prevent constipation. But foods containing fiber provide other health benefits, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Dietary fiber includes all parts of plant foods that your body cannot digest or absorb. It is not broken down and passes through your stomach, small intestine, and colon and out your body.
Fiber is commonly classified as soluble (dissolves in water) or insoluble (doesn’t dissolve):
• Soluble 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, barley and psyllium (i.e. metamucil).
• Insoluble fiber helps move material through your digestive system. It helps if you have problems with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables are good sources.
A high-fiber diet has many benefits, which include:
• Normalizes bowel movements. Dietary fiber helps with both constipation and diarrhea.
• Helps maintain bowel health. A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticulitis.
• Lowers cholesterol. Soluble fiber may help lower total cholesterol by lowering your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol.
• Helps control blood sugar. In people with diabetes, fiber (especially 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.
• Helps in maintaining a healthy weight. High-fiber foods generally require more chewing time, which gives your body more time to register when you are full, so you are less likely to overeat. Also, a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and last longer. (You stay full for longer). A high-fiber diets also tend to be lower in calories for the same volume of food.
(Institute of Medicine, 2012)
If you aren’t getting enough fiber, you may want to increase your intake of the following foods:
• Whole-grain products
• Beans, peas and other legumes
• Nuts and seeds
Refined or processed foods (canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white bread and pasta, 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. Also, removing the skin from fruits and vegetables decreases their fiber content.
Whole foods rather than fiber supplements are better. Fiber supplements (i.e. Metamucil, Citrucel and FiberCon) do not 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. Always talk with your doctor if you think you need to take fiber supplements.
Fiber is also added to some foods. However, it has not been shown that this added fiber provides the same health benefits as naturally occurring sources.
High-fiber foods are good for your health, but if you have not been eating a high fiber diet, start slowly. Adding too much fiber too quickly can promote gas, bloating and cramping. Increase fiber in your diet gradually. This allows the natural bacteria in your gut to adjust to the change. Drink plenty of water as fiber works best when it absorbs water.
Janet Hunt is a Certified Personal Trainer and can be reached at 256-614-3530 to schedule an appointment.
By: Janet Hunt