THE MANY BENEFITS OF FIBER, WHY WE NEED IT, AND HOW WE CAN EASILY ADD MORE FIBER TO OUR DIETS
WHAT IS FIBER?
Dietary fiber is an essential component of a healthful diet, with research linking a high fiber diet with reduced risks of many health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Fiber is also important for keeping the gut healthy.
Most people in America do not meet their adequate daily requirement of fiber. People can increase this measure by eating more high fiber foods, fruits and vegetables with the skins on, or by taking fiber supplements if this is not possible. But as with any supplement, it is never as beneficial as getting fiber from real food.
Fiber is a natural (and healthy) carbohydrate. When you look at nutrition labels, you may see fiber labeled as soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber (found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, peas and some fruits and vegetables) absorbs water, which transforms it into a gel-like substance that slows digestion. Soluble fiber may reduce blood cholesterol and sugar. It helps your body improve blood glucose control, which can aid in reducing your risk for diabetes. In contrast, insoluble fiber speeds digestion by adding bulk to the stool; it is found in whole grains, wheat bran and some types of vegetables. Insoluble fiber attracts water into your stool, making it softer and easier to pass with less strain on your bowel. Insoluble fiber can help promote bowel health and regularity. It also supports insulin sensitivity, and, like soluble fiber, may help reduce your risk for diabetes. Most plants (which is where fiber comes from) have both types, but usually more of one than the other.
Both types of fiber are healthy. A fiber-rich diet makes you feel full faster, so it helps you maintain a healthy weight. It has also been linked with easier weight loss and lower risk of diabetes.
The recommended amount of daily fiber is a minimum of 25 grams of for women and 38 grams for men. The average adult only eats 15 grams of fiber per day.
TOP TEN BENEFITS OF FIBER
Research has shown that a diet rich in fiber is associated with many health benefits, including the following:
1. Better regulates blood sugar levels: Fiber, especially the soluble type, found in psyllium, bran, and legumes slows the absorption of sugar from the intestines. This steadies the blood sugar level and lessens the ups and downs of insulin secretion. When you eat foods high in fiber, such as beans and whole grains, the sugar in those foods is absorbed slower, which keeps your blood glucose levels from rising too fast. This is good for you because spikes in glucose fall rapidly, which can make you feel hungry soon after eating and lead to overeating. Many high-fiber foods are also low on the glycemic index, which is a scale that ranks how much a food will impact blood sugar levels. This results in fewer sugar spikes, which helps to prevent constant cravings and acts as a natural appetite suppressant
2. Constipation: Insoluble fibers, mainly the cellulose in skins of fruits and vegetables and the husks of grains help prevent constipation; their sponge effect absorbs a lot of water into the stools, making them soft and bulky. This type of stool stimulates the intestines to contract in an undulating way, called peristalsis, which sweeps stools along — the broom effect of fiber. In cultures that typically eat higher fiber diets, people tend to produce stools that are softer, larger, and more frequent, unlike the smaller, harder, and less frequent stools associated with the typical Western diet.
3. Fiber helps you breathe more easily – and it also helps lower your risk of developing lung cancer. Fiber promotes lung health in several important ways, including reduction of inflammation and the promotion of healthy levels of gut bacteria. It improves lung health overall and also promotes, respiratory function and reduces COPD risk as well.
4. Fiber helps you sleep more deeply too! A study just published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine compared the effects of different foods on slow-wave sleep (also called deep sleep). They found that when study participants ate the recommended diet, which included high-fiber foods low in saturated fat and sugar, they fell asleep faster and had longer periods of deeply restful sleep.
5. Fiber lowers breast cancer risk – particularly when young women eat a fiber-rich diet. Scientists have long been aware that eating plenty of fiber helps lower a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, in part by binding to estrogen, which is associated with breast cancer developments. Now a new study from Harvard reports that for every additional 10g of dietary fiber eaten daily by women in adolescence and young adulthood, breast cancer risk is lowered 13%.
6. Fiber promotes healthy intestinal bacteria: Fiber promotes overall intestinal health by discouraging the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestines and encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria. This is thought to contribute to the lowered risk of colorectal cancer associated with a high-fiber diet. Fiber also contributes to a friendlier intestinal environment – the friendly bacteria in the colon ferment fiber into short-chain fatty acids, healthy nutrients that can be used by the body. The friendly bacteria in the intestines seem to prefer rice bran and barley bran, balanced sources of soluble and insoluble fiber, to make these nutritious fatty acids. These foods are also rich in vitamin E compounds called “tocotrienols,” which are natural cholesterol-lowering substances.
7. Fiber promotes heart health – and lowers the risk of a second cardiac event in patients who’ve already had one heart attack. The anti-inflammatory benefits of eating fiber are good for the heart too, both in keeping a strong heart healthy and in improving health after heart attack. A recent study found that eating fiber from cereal reduced risk of death in the nine years following a heart attack by 25%, with higher survival linked to higher rates of dietary fiber from cereal.
8. Lowers cholesterol: A diet high in soluble fiber, such as that found in oat bran, whole oats, psyllium, legumes, barley, fruit, and prunes, lowers blood levels of the harmful type of cholesterol (LDL) without lowering the good cholesterol (HDL) levels. This may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
9. May prevent colon cancer: While soluble fiber helps protect against cardiovascular diseases, insoluble fiber protects against colon cancer. Insoluble fiber increases the bulk and speed of food moving through the intestinal tract, which reduces time for harmful substances to build up. Researchers believe that the reduced cancer risk is because fiber moves food more quickly through the digestive system, minimizing cellular exposure to potential carcinogens as it removes waste more efficiently. The health benefits of fiber is clearly seen in cultures where people eat lots of high-fiber food and the incidence of colon cancer is significantly lower. Increasing your consumption of insoluble fiber, such as that found in whole grains, especially wheat bran is one of the most effective dietary changes you can make to decrease your risk of colon cancer.
10. Weight control: A high-fiber diet may help keep you fuller longer, which prevents overeating and hunger between meals. High fiber foods require more chewing, and the prolonged chewing, besides pre-digesting the food, satisfies the appetite so you eat less. Fiber stays in the stomach longer, absorbs water, swells, and helps the eater feel full. Because of this feeling of fullness, people on high fiber diets tend to eat more slowly and eat less, especially less fat. Best fibers for weight control are bran and the pectin from fruits. High-fiber foods are usually less energy-dense, meaning that they have fewer calories for the same volume of food when compared to low fiber foods.
SIMPLE WAYS TO INCREASE FIBER IN YOUR DIET
· Add fiber to your diet slowly. Too much fiber all at once may cause cramping, bloating, and constipation.
· When adding fiber to your diet, be sure to drink adequate fluids (at least 64 ounces or 8 cups per day) to prevent constipation.
· Choose products that have a whole grain listed as the first ingredient, not enriched flour. Whole wheat flour is a whole grain--wheat flour is not.
· Choose whole grain bread (again, not simply “wheat bread”) with 2-4 grams of dietary fiber per slice.
· Choose cereals with at least 5 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
· Choose raw fruits and vegetables in place of juice, and eat fruits and vegetables with the skins on, as the skins contain lots of fiber. Aim to eat 4.5 cups of vegetables and 4.5 cups of fruit each day
· Try alternative fiber choices such as whole buckwheat, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, bulgur, wheat germ, chia seeds, hemp seeds, lentil pasta, and edamame pasta.
· Popcorn is a whole grain. Serve it low-fat without butter for a healthier snack choice.
· Sprinkle bran in soups, cereals, baked products, spaghetti sauce, ground meat, and casseroles.
· Use dried peas, beans, and legumes in main dishes, salads, or side dishes such as rice or pasta.
· Add fruit to yogurt, cereal, rice, and muffins.
· Try brown rice and whole grain pastas.
For high fiber recipe ideas take a look at these websites:
Given the plethora of benefits provided by adding more fiber to your diet, I encourage you all to make the effort to do so. Remember, add it slowly into your diet and drink lots of water!
Stay well and be healthy!
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