We have all been told from a very early age to eat more fiber and we know that it’s healthy and keeps your regular but it does a lot more than making your toilet visits more comfortable. Despite being told to eat more of the stuff by family and experts alike, we get nowhere near the recommended daily dose.
Most adults are falling well short of the 20 to 30 grams recommended by the FDA. One of the reasons for this is that much of the fiber or roughage from plants gets processed out before it reaches our tables. It is important that we try to eat plenty of whole vegetables and fruit as well as increasing our intake of nuts and seeds in order to make up the shortfall.
Fiber is actually the part of the food that our bodies cannot break down and that is precisely why it is so good for our digestive systems. It comes in 2 types; soluble fiber or insoluble fiber. Many foods contain both types of fiber and the more natural the food, the more chance it will have a lot of fiber. Refined white rice, white bread and pasta have had most of the fiber content removed.
Soluble fiber is dissolved in water; it helps us in a number of ways including controlling blood sugar level and reducing cholesterol. Rich sources of soluble fiber including oatmeal, beans, nuts, barley and certain fruits which includes apples, citrus fruit, berries and pears.
This is the bulkier type of fiber that helps prevent constipation among other things. It doesn’t dissolve in water and is found in many vegetables like carrots and tomatoes and celery as well as in whole grain food and cereals.
The health benefits of fiber
According to recent research, 90% of Americans do not get anywhere near enough fiber. This is a real issue because fiber has so many health benefits and also plays a strong role in disease prevention and even weight control.
1. Digestive health
I think this is the one benefit of fiber that everybody knows about. Fiber basically improves your bowel movements by adding bulk to the stools which in turn makes them pass easier which can prevent constipation but also diarrhea.
Making sure you get enough fiber into your diet also reduces the risk of intestinal inflammation or diverticulitis as well as preventing kidney stones and gallstones and hemorrhoids. It also helps reduce gastric acid and therefore the risk of a reflux condition called GERD and provides relief for irritable bowel syndrome.
2. Heart health
All fiber but especially the soluble variety is tremendously important for a healthy heart. There is evidence that a high fiber diet decreases your risk of heart attack by around 40% and the risk of stoke is also greatly reduced by those who eat more fiber. There’s nothing more important than a healthy heart and buy eating more fiber you will be reducing your LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels while simultaneously improving your HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol level. It also helps recue your blood pressure and inflammation while also helping you get rid of any excess belly fat.
3. Blood sugar levels and diabetes
A diet rich in fiber especially soluble fiber slows the process by which sugar is absorbed into the body and regulates blood glucose levels. Those with diabetes can benefit and it also helps reduce the chances of type 2 diabetes from developing. With diabetes becoming such a huge problem in the West, it is good to know that simply adding a few tasty frsh snacks to your daily intake can help.
4. Skin health
Those with acne or just wanting to take care of their skin can benefit from eating fiber. Certain fibers are very good for you skin with psyllium husk being among the best. Many fibrous foods are also rich sources of the vitamins and minerals you need to keep your skin looking fresh. Fiber can help eliminate any toxins from your skin and help kill off the bacteria and yeasts that lead to acne.
5. Weight control
A diet rich in fiber not only tackles specific illnesses but it can help you achieve a slimmer appearance which at this time of year –I am writing 2 days after Christmas- is something we could all do with. The bulk which you get from your fiber works by filling you up sooner and leaving you sated.
Basically if you eat plenty of roughage, you will eat a lot less of anything else and you will keep your calories under control. Psyllium husk and glucomannan which we have already written about here are excellent choices when you are looking to lose some of those unwanted pounds. Most good sources of fiber like fruit and fresh veg are low in calories too.
Another way in which fiber helps you control your weight is by regulating the body’s blood sugar levels, preventing insulin spikes, which tend to make you crave unhealthy food choices. And don’t forget that by eating a high fiber diet, you will have more energy to burn up on your work out.
While the evidence is still far from conclusive, there is some research to suggest diets rich in fiber might help with the prevention of certain types of cancer, specifically colorectal cancer but it may also reduce the risk of stomach cancer.
How to get more fiber into your diet?
The recommended daily dose of fiber is between 21 and 38 grams depending on gender and size and it might seem daunting given that the average person does not even manage half of that. But getting more fiber into your diet and improving your overall health in the process should not be too difficult. Experts recommend going steady at first, especially if you have never had a high fiber diet. Making the change should be done gradually – just add a little more each week and you should also increase your water intake at the same time. The reason for this is that fiber absorbs the surrounding water and you need to drink more water as you increase your intake of fiber.
Take it easy to start with as it’s possible for some people to suffer from nasty side effects if they overdo it. Symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea and stomach cramps are all common but should dissipate over time.
- Start your day with a nutritious high fiber cereal breakfast- bran flakes or whole bran have a far higher fiber content than other popular cereals like cornflakes. Alternatively, you could add a spoonful of wheat bran to your chosen cereal.
- Go brown…replace the white rice, breads and pastas with the brown. Whole grain alternatives.
- Try flaxseeds which are a very high source of fiber and important cholesterol reducing fatty acids.
- Eat more whole fresh fruit and vegetables-they nearly all contain plenty of fiber.
- If you enjoy baking, use whole grain flour instead of white flour and consider bulking up your bread and pastries with psyllium husk for example.
- Lentils are high in fiber and having lived in turkey for 4 years, I can say hands on heart that there’s nothing better than a red lentil ‘mercimek corbasi’ soup.