When researching healthy food and diet advice, it is common to see plenty of information regarding how much fat, protein, and carbohydrates a person’s diet should consist of. While this information is all important, there is one aspect of a person’s diet that should not be overlooked. Fiber is increasingly being noted as one of the most important parts of a daily diet, especially for gastrointestinal health.
What is Fiber?
Fiber, also known as dietary fiber, is not able to be broken down by the body to be absorbed as energy. Since fiber cannot be digested by the stomach or intestines, it passes through the body generally intact. Because of this, fiber is able to help cleanse the intestinal tract by clearing any unnecessary particles that may be collecting in the stomach and intestines.
Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber improves cholesterol and glucose levels in the body, and insoluble fiber aids digestion and can reduce issues with constipation. Each type of fiber is found in different foods. Foods that contain soluble fiber include peas, carrots, barley, apples, and citrus fruits. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole-wheat flour and bran, nuts, cauliflower, and potatoes. Some foods, such as beans and oatmeal, contain both of these types of fiber. It is important to consume a variety of these foods to ensure sufficient fiber intake.
Benefits of Fiber
There are many health benefits associated with maintaining a diet with an adequate amount of fiber each day.
Lower Incidence of Cardiovascular Disease
- Sufficient fiber consumption leads to a healthier heart and lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease by reducing the amount of bad cholesterol in the body.
Reduced Risk of Type II Diabetes
- Diets high in fiber can lower glucose levels and lead weight loss, reducing the risk for diabetes.
- Increased fiber is important for normal bowel movements. The fiber adds bulk to a person’s stool and decreases digestion time, permitting easier defecation. This also aids in eliminating or reducing issues regarding constipation and conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Eating foods containing fiber can be more difficult to chew. This causes the body to release more saliva and gastric acid in the stomach, making the stomach feel full more quickly. The body’s difficulty digesting fiber also contributes to this. Fiber stays in the stomach for a longer period of time while the body tries to digest it, causing a person to eat less at meal times while still feeling satisfied.
- Consuming fiber in place of other foods that are higher in calories and fat causes weight loss due to a lower daily caloric intake.
How Much Fiber is Enough?
Fiber is important in stimulating the growth and activity of important bacteria in our digestive tracts. These bacteria boost the immune system and reduce the unhealthy bacteria that residein the stomach and intestines.
There are many benefits of eating fiber, but how much fiber is needed to see those health benefits? Typically, a healthy daily amount of dietary fiber is between 25 and 30 grams. To receive the full benefit, it is recommended to consume this amount of fiber through food sources, not supplements.
There are many ways to increase daily fiber intake. Using whole-grain or whole-wheat products when possible is a great way to add extra fiber to a diet. Beans and legumes are also great sources of fiber. A half-cup serving of beans contains seven to eight grams of fiber, so using beans in soup and chili is a great way to increase fiber intake.
Vegetables, such as peas, cauliflower, and squash, all contain three to four grams of fiber per half cup serving. Fresh fruits including apples, oranges, and pears can also be a great source of fiber, each containing three to four grams of fiber as well. Dried fruits contain an even greater amount of fiber. One cup of raisins contains seven grams of fiber, while one cup of grapes only contains one gram.
The Importance of Fiber
Diet is a critical part of living a healthy lifestyle. It is important to consume foods that provide adequate nutritional value, such as vitamins, minerals, and proteins, while also limiting unhealthy carbohydrates and unnecessary fat intake.
In addition to this, ensuring sufficient intake of dietary fiber is critical for health, especially regarding the digestive tract. Fiber not only reduces constipation and aids in digestion by efficiently ridding the stomach, intestines, and colon of unwanted particles, it also provides many other health benefits as well.
Fiber intake lowers the risk of heart disease and diabetes, causes weight loss and reduced appetite, and stimulates the immune system allowing the body to more effectively combat diseases and unwanted bacteria. Dietary fiber is found in a variety of common foods and should be consumed daily for a healthier body and lifestyle overall.