Dietary fiber, found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, is most commonly associated with digestive regularity. A fiber-rich diet can benefit the human body in many other ways as well- from helping to regulate weight, to lowering the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer.
Experts recommend that people eat at least 25 to 35 grams of fiber every day. This fiber should be a combination of both soluble and insoluble fiber. When adjusting your diet to include more fiber, keep in mind that there are two types:
- Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.
- Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.
As we’ve shared before, a plant-based diet is beneficial to your health for a variety of reasons. Some benefits of a plant-based diet include providing your body essential vitamins and minerals, reducing inflammation, supporting heart and brain health, digestive health, reducing cancer risk, and many other factors. Foods that are the corner-stone of a plant-based diet include:
- Whole-grain products
- Beans, peas and other legumes
- Nuts and seeds
So how does a fiber-rich diet benefit the body? Here are 5 ways that fiber supports overall wellness.
Adding soluble fiber to your diet can help prevent cholesterol from being absorbed in the intestine, as well as works to remove it from the body. Aim to include 5-10 grams of soluble fiber to your diet every day to lower LDL-cholesterol which can build up in your arteries. Not only does a healthy cholesterol level lower your risk of heart disease, but maintaining healthy cholesterol levels can also prevent the risk of stroke, which can result in memory issues, loss or change of movement, difficulty with swallowing and speech and other functions. As we shared in our post about Alzheimer’s disease, cholesterol has also been found to accelerate the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, the protein deposits that damage the brain and can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Maintains digestion and colon health
Fiber helps bulk up stools, keeping them soft and regular while also keeping the digestive track active. But make sure you hydrate to assist in digestive regularity- if you find that you experience excessive gas, bloating, and other unpleasant digestive symptoms, the culprit could be needing more water to assist in the digestive process. After all, hydration is a key element in our body’s function!
Probiotics, found in fermented foods and drinks help improve digestive health, and introduce essential antioxidants to the body. Prebiotics, on the other hand, help the probiotics thrive in your gut; prebiotics can be found in fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables (some good sources are bananas, corn, and whole wheat).
Fiber has been found to also guard against issues like diverticulitis, can ease symptoms of GERD (which causes heartburn), and help relieve some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Studies also show that high fiber diets also help lower the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Speak to your provider about how much fiber you may need.
Regulates blood sugar and reduces diabetes risk
Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can help slow the absorption of sugar, preventing spikes in blood sugar. A diet rich in fiber can even help prevent type 2 diabetes. Studies have demonstrated that a high-carbohydrate/high-fiber diet significantly improves blood glucose control and reduces cholesterol levels in diabetic patients compared with a low-carbohydrate/low-fiber diet. A high-carbohydrate/high-fiber diet does not increase plasma insulin and triglyceride concentrations, despite the higher consumption of carbohydrates. Dietary fiber represents a wide category and further studies are required to understand which fiber-filled foods provide the most benefit.
Helps maintain a healthy weight
A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine suggests including even 30 grams of fiber each day can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve your body’s response to insulin just as effectively as a more complicated diet. That’s great news for anybody looking to reach a healthier weight, and even those that just want to maintain their current weight.
Because fiber rich foods fill you up, you’ll feel full for longer, helping you avoid overeating and reaching for unhealthy snacks that can add up quickly. If you do need a snack during the day, make quality choices and include foods that provide nutritional value like a few pieces of fruit, a handful of nuts, and a healthy dip (like plain Greek yogurt or hummus).
Supports cardiovascular health
Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, is an important element of any heart-healthy diet. Eating a diet high in fiber can improve cholesterol levels by lowering LDL cholesterol. A high fiber intake can also reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome (you can read more in our post here). Studies have found that people that have a fiber-rich diet are at lower risk of coronary heart disease as a result of lower blood pressure, reduced inflammation, and that fiber supports healthy levels of cholesterol.
Fiber has many benefits to overall wellness and should be integrated into every diet. Wednesday, check back as we’ll share recipes that incorporate fiber-rich ingredients. On Friday, we’ll also discuss how fiber can also help those that are living with chronic pain.