What Do You Need to Know About Dietary Fiber?
You don’t have to be a health or nutrition expert to know that fiber is part of a healthy diet. Do you really know what fiber is, however, and how it benefits you? Dietary fiber does more than just support your digestion – it also plays a role in your ability to absorb and utilize nutrients from the food you eat. Keep reading to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about fiber and more.
What is Dietary Fiber?
When you eat plant foods like grains, fruits, and vegetables, your body is only capable of breaking it down so much. The leftover part of the plant that cannot be digested is called the roughage and it is also known as dietary fiber. There are two types of dietary fiber – soluble and insoluble – and each plays a specific role in healthy digestion.
When you eat plant foods, your body breaks the material down into its core components, utilizing the glucose (sugar) molecules for energy. The rest the material passes through your digestive system largely unaltered and leaves the body in the form of waste, or stool. Soluble fiber is so named because it can be dissolved in water – this is the type of fiber that increases the bulk or volume of your stool, enabling it to pass smoothly through your digestive tract. Insoluble fiber remains undissolved and it helps to prevent constipation by keeping the food moving steadily along.
What Are the Benefits of Fiber?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adult men need about 38 grams of fiber per day and adult women need about 25 grams. Consuming plant products like whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts or seeds can help you meet that daily goal. As part of a healthy diet, fiber provides the following health benefits:
- It reduces your LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) levels which reduces your risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
- It helps stabilize blood sugar and regulate insulin production – this is particularly beneficial for type 2 diabetics.
- It plays a role in balancing your intestinal flora and pH to prevent digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
- It provides the beneficial bacteria in your gut with fuel which helps to improve and strengthen your immunity.
- It helps to move food through the digestive system so the nutrients can be absorbed properly.
- It digests and breaks down slowly which may help you feel fuller for longer, suppressing your appetite and supporting your weight loss goals.
- It may help to reduce your risk for certain cancers including breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
- It could increase your expected lifespan by as much as 19%.
- It supports your body’s natural detoxification ability, helping to flush accumulated wastes and toxins out of your body.
- It may increase the bioavailability of other nutrients like calcium which supports bone density and growth.
Studies have also shown that people who meet their daily recommended value for dietary fiber tend to weigh less and have less body fat. There is also a link between fiber intake and a reduced risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and stroke.
Tips for Increasing Your Fiber Intake
Getting your daily dose of fiber is important for healthy digestion as well as overall health. Fortunately, it is pretty easy to reach your daily recommended allowance if you follow a diet of healthy, whole foods. Whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the top sources of dietary fiber, though you can also find it in nuts, seeds, and legumes. Here are some simple tips for increasing your daily fiber intake naturally:
- Try to include at least one serving of vegetables at every meal.
- Focus on whole-grain foods instead of processed carbs like white bread and pasta.
- When making homemade juices, stir some of the pulp back into the juice before drinking.
- Use the fiber left over from juicing in homemade desserts like carrot cake.
- Cook with brown rice, quinoa, or other whole grains instead of white rice.
- Top your salads with toasted nuts, seeds, or sliced fruit.
- Have a fresh piece of fruit with breakfast and/or for dessert.
- Blend fresh fruits and vegetables into a smoothie for a snack or meal replacement.
- Include a bowl of whole-grain cereal or granola at breakfast.
- Mix nuts, seeds, or fresh fruit into your yogurt or use it as a topping for oatmeal.
If you’re still having trouble meeting your daily recommended intake for fiber, try a powdered fiber supplement. These powders are often colorless and flavorless so you can add them to your favorite beverages or even a cup of yogurt to boost your daily intake. Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet, so don’t overlook it!