Your Grandmother was right, “You need more fiber in your diet.” Fiber or “roughage” is often recommended, but beyond grabbing a bowl of bran flakes, do you understand what fiber is or how to increase the amount of fiber in your diet?
Fiber is simply one type of carbohydrate which comes from plants and that cannot be digested. Fiber is considered either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, insoluble does not. Sources of fiber include oat bran, nuts, seeds, beans, peas and psyllium, which is often used as a fiber supplement.
Insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber helps to move food through your digestive system and intestines and increases stool “bulk” in the colon. This is why fiber is greatly beneficial in treating constipation and irregular stools. Natural sources of insoluble fiber include whole-wheat flours, wheat bran, nuts, beans and most vegetables. Green leafy vegetables including kale, cauliflower, and green beans are excellent sources of insoluble fiber.
Benefits of increasing the amount of fiber to your diet include:
- Softer Stools – Fiber in the digestive system absorbs water and forms softer stools that are easier to pass through the intestines. This is what your Grandmother was referring to when she says you need more “roughage” or bulk in your diet. If your stools are currently loose or watery, adding fiber may also help your body to form stool as the fiber absorbs excess fluid.
- Colon Health – Adding fiber and softening stools will eliminate constipation and straining will decrease your risk of hemorrhoids and diverticulitis. Research suggests that a high fiber diet may also decrease your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Digestive Health – Fiber is an effective “prebiotic” useful in feeding and supporting the many probiotics or beneficial bacteria in your gut, your stomach and intestines.
- Lower Cholesterol – Soluble fiber lowers your total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, the “bad,” cholesterol. A high-fiber diet will also reduce high blood pressure and overall systemic inflammation.
- Lower Blood Sugar – Fiber blocks the absorption of sugar during the digestive process and may also help improve your blood sugar levels. A healthy high fiber diet that includes “bulk” may also reduce the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
- Weight Loss – Fiber is more filling and you will feel more full sooner and for a longer period when you include it in your diet. High fiber foods also contain fewer calories, eating more high fiber foods will fill you up and help you eat fewer calories.