Fiber is essential.
If you are like most people, you don’t get enough. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, women 50 and under should be getting 25 grams a day, men 50 and under should be getting 38 grams a day.
What is fiber?
Fiber is a general term for a group of plant substances that the body is unable to digest. Fiber is classified into two groups, “Soluble” and “Insoluble”, based on their ability to dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water – it absorbs it, creating “roughage”, keeping you regular and promoting a “full” feeling. You can find it in wheat bran and most vegetables. Soluble fiber does dissolve in water, creating a “gel” that prevents the body from absorbing certain undesirable substances – such as cholesterol. It can be found in beans, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, as well as psyllium fiber powder.
The average American gets around 15 grams per day. This is a problem.
So why up the fiber?
1. It lowers the risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is a blanket term to describe several diseases that affect the heart & blood vessels (such as heart attack, stroke, and angina\chest pain). Studies have shown that consuming a high fiber diet (specifically soluble fiber) reduces the risk of heart disease by influencing several factors, including the lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol. Soluble fiber “binds” to the LDL (your “bad cholesterol), preventing all of it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Additionally, digestion of fiber produces short chain fatty acids, which prevent your body from producing cholesterol. Lower levels of cholesterol = lower risk of heart disease.
2. It keeps you regular.
Because our body doesn’t digest fiber, it acts as “roughage”, absorbing water as it passes through your digestive system, acting as a “sponge” that sweeps away toxins and other extra materials your body does not need. By preventing constipation, adequate fiber intake also prevents diverticulosis – a condition in which small pouches form in your intestine – can lead to a painful condition called diverticulitis, if those pouches rupture. A high fiber diet has been proven to prevent this uncomfortable condition.
3. It can help you lose weight.
Similar to point #2, as the fiber absorbs water in your digestive system, it swells, creating a feeling of fullness that could lead to consuming fewer calories over the course of the day. When fiber is digested, it produces two hormones that produce satiety (fullness). Intake of fiber prevents the body from absorbing 100% of the calories it consumes – furthermore, because fiber is indigestible, not all the calories are absorbed by the body. In a way, some calories in a high fiber food are “freebies” – your body doesn’t even register that they’ve been consumed.
4. It helps prevent diabetes.
One of the many benefits of fiber is glucose control. Similar to protein and fat, fiber slows down digestion – as a result, slows down the emptying of your stomach contents (too-quick digestion leads to spikes in blood sugar), leading to better glucose control. Additionally, by reducing the risk of obesity (by helping with weight control), the risk for development of diabetes is even lower (as we all know, obesity is a risk factor for diabetes).
5. It helps prevent cancer.
Studies show that the risk of mouth, colon, breast, and small intestinal cancer are DECREASED with high fiber intake. The short chain fatty acids that are produced when fiber is digested have “anti cancer” effects. Additionally, the roughage that fiber produces prevents toxins from sitting in the body for too long, sweeping them out like a broom – toxins that could be potentially carcinogenic (“cancer causing”). There are also studies suggesting that fiber prevents absorption of excess estrogen – a risk factor for breast cancer.
Coming Soon: ways to add fiber to your diet.