Have you noticed how more and more foods are touting that they’re high in fiber? From cereals to yogurts it’s pretty much impossible to go to the store without seeing something that’s a “good source of fiber.” So what is it and why are food companies so eager to promote that their products contain it?
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and both are essential to your health. Fiber has a whole host of benefits, yet the average American diet is lacking. Thanks to busy schedules and fast, convenient food, it’s easy to miss the mark on fiber. So what makes it so special?
1. Lowers your risk of death from heart disease
Fiber helps bind and eliminate blood cholesterol/fat and helps lower blood pressure
2. May help lower cholesterol
Fiber causes the liver to get it’s cholesterol from the blood, lowering blood -serum cholesterol levels
3. Keeps you feeling full longer
Fiber moves very slowly through the body, which means you’ll feel full longer.
4. Plays a major role in immunity
GI health is important for proper immune function. Since fiber helps keep the GI tract functioning smoothly, it plays a vital role in keeping you healthy
5. May help prevent type 2 diabetes
Because fiber helps regulate blood sugar and insulin, it may help in preventing type 2 diabetes.
6. Can help you get your micronutrients
Since fiber is be found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes, all high in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), consuming more can help you meet your micronutrient goals.
7. Enhances mineral absorption
Certain fibers have been found to increase mineral absorption, particularly calcium which is essential for bone health.
8. Can help reduce hemorrhoid symptoms
Because fiber acts as a stool softener as well as increasing its bulk, fiber can help reduce straining which can cause hemorrhoids or exacerbate current symptoms.
9. Lowers blood sugar
By slowing the absorption of sugar, soluble fiber can help keep blood sugar levels stable
10. Aids in bowel movement
Fiber keeps the GI tract in good working order which helps relieve constipation and diverticulitis
Not so fast. Before you go adding tons of fiber, there are a few things you should know.
Just like anything else, it is possible to get too much fiber. Too much can lead to a host of not so fun side effects, including:
Constipation – Yep, fiber can help alleviate constipation, but it can also be a cause of it. Since fiber adds bulk to stool, it helps move things along. However, eat too much and nothing is going anywhere. So if you’re eating tons of fiber and wondering why you’re backed up, you may want to try lowering your intake.
Lower mineral absorption – Another double-edged sword. Since fiber speeds up digestion, too much can lead to less time for mineral absorption which can be especially problematic if your mineral intake is already lacking.
Bloating and gas – too much fiber can lead to some less than pleasant odors; this is due to the byproducts of fermentation of fiber in the colon. Unless you want to wear an air freshener, I’d advise against over consuming fiber.
Not all fiber is created equal – Fiber from whole foods and fiber-enhanced foods are not the same thing. Foods that have been fortified don’t contain the micronutrients and water that are found in whole foods. All those foods promoting that they’re a good source of fiber conveniently left out the fact that they’re probably lacking in micronutrients. If you’re relying solely on fiber-fortified foods, you may want to look at your dietary choices. Getting some of your fiber from these foods is fine, but aim to get the majority of your fiber from fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, peanuts, edamame, lentils), and nuts.
So how much fiber do you need?
A good general guideline is:
- 20-35g/day for women
- 30-45g/day for men
Not sure how to improve your diet? Send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
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