Benefits of Fiber Go Beyond Digestion

If you’re like most Americans, you aren’t getting enough fiber in your diet. Fiber, a type of carbohydrate, is important for heart and digestive health.  Reasons to fill up on fiber range from reducing calorie intake to reducing cholesterol.

Basically, fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our body cannot digest.  Fiber is found in all plants that are eaten for food, including fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. Animal foods do not have fiber, so you can only get fiber in your diet by eating foods that come from plants.   

Not all fiber is the same. It is commonly divided into two classes: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water; insoluble fiber does not.

Soluble fiber is heralded as heart helper, acting to lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Oats have the highest proportion of soluble fiber of any grain. In addition to oats, good sources of soluble fiber are nuts, seeds, beans, citrus fruits, apples, strawberries, and carrots. Recent research has also found soluble fiber to be an immune booster. 

Insoluble fiber, also known as “roughage,” is most commonly known for its role in moving food through the digestive system. It has also been associated with decreased risk for cardiovascular disease. Insoluble fiber also helps you to fill full when eating, so it may help you to eat fewer calories. Sources of insoluble fiber are whole wheat and whole grain products and vegetables.

The difference between soluble and insoluble fiber can be important when it comes to fiber’s effect on your risk of developing certain diseases. Fiber can help lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, diverticulitis and constipation. 

How much fiber does a body need? According to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults need 20 to 35 grams of dietary fiber per day, but most get only 10 to 15 grams. Children over age 2 should consume an amount equal to or greater than their age plus 5 grams per day. If your fiber intake falls short, a gradual increase in the amount of dietary fiber consumed will be easier on your digestive system than a sudden surge of fiber-rich foods.  

Here are a few quick tips for selecting high-fiber foods that can help increase fiber intake:

  • Choose whole fruit instead of juice.  Whole fruit is packed with lots more fiber than juice.  Add fruit to your breakfast, or snack on fruits or veggies instead of chips or crackers.
  • Check the food label for fiber-filled whole grain.  Choose foods that list whole grain as a first ingredient for cereal and breads.
  • Eat more beans.  They’re a great-tasting, cheap source of fiber.
  • Keep the seeds, peels or hulls of fruits and vegetables when appropriate. This is where most of the insoluble fiber is located.

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