Gut health is all the rage these days, and fiber is essential for your gut. Besides keeping you regular, fiber can keep you full without overeating, detox your body, and keep you regular and energized.
Technically speaking, fiber is a carbohydrate. But there’s a twist. While most other carbohydrates break down into sugar molecules, fiber does not. Dietary fiber is the part of fruits, grains, and vegetables that your body can’t break down and digest. Sounds bad, but it’s actually a good thing! As you digest your food, fiber adds mass and weight to your stool, making it easier to pass and preventing constipation. It does this by drawing water into the stool and allowing for it to pass through the intestines quickly. It’s a key ingredient in maintaining good gut health, and it helps your body regulate blood sugar. But that’s not all! There are other health benefits of fiber that help make it an essential part of a healthy diet.
Here are a few different ways it can help:
-It may help you maintain a healthy weight: Because high-fiber foods promote satiety, you may find yourself feeling full for longer after you eat them. This can help decrease the urge to snack as much as you would without a high-fiber diet. Additionally, fiber helps keep your digestive tract regular and moving, reducing the chance of buildup in your gut.
-As mentioned, fiber can help keep you regular: Fiber adds mass to your stool while also attracting water to make it easier for your body to pass waste.
-It enriches your nutrient uptake: Fiber-rich diets slow down your digestion. This gives your body more time to break down foods and absorb the nutrients you consume.
-It can reduce the risk of colon cancer: Keeping your colon clear reduces the risk of food sitting around and becoming toxic in your gut. This can decrease the risk of colorectal cancer in some people.
-It may lower cholesterol: Soluble fiber can be responsible for lowering low-density lipoproteins that you ingest. Because of this, it can lower cholesterol levels in some people.
-It may boost your heart health: Fiber-rich diets may potentially lower inflammation and blood pressure, resulting in a happy heart and [hopefully] a longer life.
-It may reduce the risk of breast cancer: Research from The American Academy of Pediatrics shows that women who have had diets high in fiber for most of their life run a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
-You may have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes: Soluble fiber reduces sugar absorption while digesting and breaking down food. Fiber content can also decrease the glycemic index in foods. Research shows that all of this means eating fiber can help improve blood glucose control among some people with type 2 diabetes. Fiber is the ultimate efficiency tool. It actually slows down the digestive process, giving your body more time to extract nutrients as you digest your food. Since it slows down your digestion, it can reduce blood sugar spikes after eating. Fiber also helps you feel fuller faster and stay feeling full for longer. This means you end up eating less and may even have an easier time curbing sugar cravings as fiber becomes part of your daily diet. As fiber moves through your digestive tract, it plays a couple of roles. It can bind with compounds like cholesterol and sugars to block them from being absorbed. It also slows down your digestive process, which can lead to a slower release of digested sugar into your bloodstream, resulting in a more stable and lower blood sugar level.
Fiber is classified into two different groups: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is a fiber that dissolves in water and turns into a gel. Insoluble fiber is—you guessed it—a fiber that doesn’t dissolve in water. Here’s a little more about each type:
Soluble fiber swells in the stomach and forms a gel-like consistency that binds with fat, toxins, and excess calories. Instead of these elements being absorbed into your bloodstream, they will be ushered out through the digestive tract. It also nurtures the good bacteria that dwell in your gut, promoting healthier stool. By binding itself to cholesterol in the small intestine and lowering the amount of low-density lipoprotein (the source of bad cholesterol), it may also help lower cholesterol levels. The reason it’s usually brought up in conversations revolving around weight loss is that it can help you feel full for longer, preventing you from overeating. Some foods with soluble fiber include:
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools and acts like a broom to speed up digestion, preventing constipation. What Foods are Highest in Insoluble Fiber?
Most fruits and vegetables contain both types of fiber. However, some commonly recommended fruits (e.g. apples, bananas, etc.) actually contain much more sugar than fiber, so it’s important to be mindful of this if you are watching your sugar intake.
How Can I Tell How Much Fiber I Really Need?
Are you getting too little fiber? What about too much fiber? Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all, but there’s an average daily intake that you can consider. The Mayo Clinic recommends women consume 21 to 25 grams of fiber every day, and men consume 30 to 38 grams a day.
Medical professionals and dietitians recommend that women consume, at the minimum, 25 grams per day, while men should aim for 38 grams. However, due to the rising popularity of low carb diets, Americans are consuming far less than the minimum recommended, and are missing out on the key benefits that fiber presents.
Everyone’s body and needs are different, though, and it is vital to understand your unique needs when changing your diet. The first thing to remember when changing your diet in any form is to take it slow. Don’t shock your body by completely changing up what it is used to. This can have adverse effects on your health and may even cause bloating, gas and cramping. Some people don’t tolerate all high-fiber vegetables or grains as well as others. So it’s essential not to use a one-size-fits-all approach when you’re adding fiber into your diet. If your body handles these options well, they can be a healthy way to add micronutrients and fiber to your diet.
Final Thoughts on Fiber
Although you need to balance fiber intake with a healthy routine and good lifestyle choices, there are many benefits to adding fiber into your diet.