Fiber is a natural carbohydrate that’s good for you. It’s an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. As you may know, fiber is an ever-present component of a dietitian-recommended meal plan. Why is that so? It’s because increasing your dietary fiber intake provides several health benefits for the body.
Fiber is classified into two types: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber – This type of fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel-like consistency. It helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. It’s found in apples, beans, citrus fruits, carrots, oats, barley, and psyllium.
Insoluble fiber – This type of fiber isn’t dissolvable by water. It increases stool bulk and promotes the movement of food through your digestive system. It’s beneficial for those who struggle with constipation and irregular bowel movement. Whole wheat flour, nuts, beans, wheat bran, and some vegetables are excellent sources of insoluble fiber.
Our body needs both of these types of fiber. According to the Institute of Medicine, a minimum of 25 grams of daily fiber for women is recommended, while 38 grams is needed for men.
These are the amazing health benefits of fiber:
It helps maintain regular bowel movement.
When you eat fiber-rich foods, it moves faster through your intestines, which signals that you are full. The insoluble fiber binds water, making your stool softer, bulkier, and heavier. It helps move things along in the gut, making your bowel movement regular and lessening the likelihood of constipation. Having a regular bowel movement helps lower the risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticular disease. According to some studies, dietary fiber helps improve stool frequency, stool consistency, and has no side effects.
It aids in weight loss.
High-fiber foods increase satiety, making them suitable food to eat while on a weight loss diet. Fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber also tend to be low in calories, which help satisfy and counteract hunger with few calories. It helps decrease the consumption of excessive calories that lead to weight gain. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, dieters who get at least 30 grams of fiber a day but given no other dietary restrictions or parameters have lost a significant amount of weight. It’s because fiber binds with fat and sugar molecules as they travel through the digestive tract, reducing the calories you consume.
It lowers cholesterol levels, promoting heart health.
Dietary fiber is beneficial for heart health, studies have shown. Increasing dietary fiber helps lower total cholesterol levels and bad cholesterol. Soluble fiber binds bile acids, and bile acids help lower blood cholesterol levels when it’s excreted from the body. For every 7 grams of fiber eaten daily, the risk of heart disease drops by nine percent, according to a review of 22 studies published in the BMJ. This is partly due to fiber’s ability to absorb excess cholesterol in the system and ferry it out before it clogs up the arteries. Studies have also found that high-fiber foods can reduce high blood pressure and inflammation.
It helps control blood sugar.
Fiber-containing foods take longer to digest than lower-fiber foods – it’s a well-established fact. When you eat high fiber foods, the sugar is absorbed slower, keeping your blood glucose levels from rising too fast. Some types of fiber can slow gastric emptying and glucose absorption. A healthy diet with insoluble fiber can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
It promotes healthy gut bacteria.
The good bacteria that make up your microbiome feed off fiber and flourish. Some fiber is fermented in the gastrointestinal tract, which is then gobbled up by gut bacteria, producing short-chain fatty acids that have a host of benefits. These fatty acids help lower systemic inflammation that prevents obesity and a lot of major chronic health problems. The bacteria that grow in the gut with the help of fiber also produce chemical signals that help regulate appetite and blood sugar, according to research.
It cleans out your colon.
Fiber acts like a scrub brush that helps clean out bacteria and other buildups in the intestines. Because of this, fiber helps prevent the development of colon cancer. According to a study by the Polyp Prevention Trial Study Group, diets that are high in animal fats and protein, which are low in fiber, are linked to higher rates of colon cancer.
It reduces the risk of certain cancers.
Every 10 grams of fiber is associated with a 10% reduced risk of colorectal cancer, and a 5% reduced risk of breast cancer, says the study published in the Annals of Oncology. The foods that are rich in fiber are usually rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that could further reduce your odds. Researchers believe that fiber can reduce the risk of cancer because it moves food more quickly through the digestive system. When waste is removed more efficiently, it minimizes cellular exposure to potential carcinogens.
Fiber also lowers the risk of breast cancer, particularly for young women who eat a fiber-rich diet. Scientists have learned that eating plenty of fiber helps lower a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, partly due to estrogen binding, which is related to breast cancer developments. Studies have found that every additional 10 grams of dietary fiber eaten daily by women during adolescence and young adulthood lowers the development of breast cancer risk by 13%.
Fiber also promotes lung health, including respiratory function and reducing the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Eating plenty of fiber during pregnancy also helps protect the unborn child from asthma. A study has found lower rates of asthma in the first years of life in the children of women who ate healthy amounts of fiber during pregnancy.
It helps you live longer.
Heart attack survivors who eat more fiber live longer than those who don’t, according to a study. The researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who ate the most fiber after a heart attack had a 25% lower chance of dying the next decade, compared to those who ate the least amount of fiber. They found the biggest benefit among those who consumed “cereal fiber,” like oatmeal whole wheat pasta, and barley.