Ensuring that you get enough fiber in your diet is important for a number of reasons, the primary ones being that fiber lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease and that it improves digestion. Experts recommend that adults aim for getting 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily from their diet. Unfortunately, our typical diet full of refined grains and processed food means that the average person only gets about 15 grams of fiber per day.
One study found that those who eat the greatest amount of fiber have a 22 percent lower risk of dying from any cause. A study performed by researchers at Harvard University that involved 40,000 men found that men who ate high-fiber diets had a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who consumed low-fiber diets. In addition, fiber has been shown to reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure.
Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
The two types of dietary fiber are soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. As the term suggests, soluble fiber (pectin and gum), is easily dissolved in liquid, and when it combines with your gastric juices forms a type of gel that helps to lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and reduce high blood sugar. Insoluble fiber (lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose), on the other hand, does not dissolve at all, but is an important agent that adds bulk to keep things moving along the digestive tract, supporting easy elimination and reducing the risk of hemorrhoids, constipation and diverticulosis.
The greatest amount of soluble fiber can be found in foods such as oats, pears, peas, beans, apples, lentils, barley, mushrooms and carrots. Insoluble fiber can most typically be found in whole grain flours, wheat bran, broccoli, nuts and seeds. Beans may be one of the best sources of fiber in general, as they contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Some of the benefits of fiber in the diet include the following:
• Regulates blood sugar levels – Eating a meal high in fiber reduces the rate at which sugar is absorbed by the bloodstream after you eat, which helps you to avoid the insulin spikes that promote insulin resistance and keeps your blood sugar at moderate levels, reducing your risk of diabetes.
• Lowers dangerous blood cholesterol – Studies have shown that consuming soluble fiber on a regular basis can lower the level of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, reducing your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Fiber allows for a greater elimination of cholesterol from the body by binding to bile acids, which are made from cholesterol and which are excreted in part each day.
• Helps to control your weight – The greater the amount of high-fiber food in your meal, the more quickly you will feel full and the longer it will take to become hungry again. High-fiber foods tend to also be lower in calories, so the same amount of high-fiber food should reduce your hunger more and provide fewer calories than the equivalent low-fiber meal.
• Maintains bowel health – Soluble fiber absorbs water and softens the stool, and insoluble fiber increases bulk, so it makes elimination easier, reducing the incidence of hemorrhoids. Several studies have shown that fiber may also help in the relief of irritable bowel syndrome.
To get the most fiber in your diet, do your best to avoid eating processed foods, as they are generally low in fiber, the healthy parts having been removed in processing. The best choice for a high-fiber diet is to eat whole foods such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Incorporating more high-fiber foods into your diet is not difficult. A bowl of oatmeal at breakfast (look for the steel cut kind, as it has markedly more fiber than the instant variety!) with a few blueberries or bananas added to it gets your day off to a good high-fiber start.
Smoothies are another excellent way of incorporating many of these healthy high-fiber foods into your diet, and makes getting your daily requirement of fiber and nutrients quick and easy. If you find yourself getting hungry at work, try bringing in a handful of nuts or some dried fruit instead of heading for the high fat and sugar temptation of the office candy machine. Or, if you add some canned beans or chopped vegetables to stews and soups you will get both extra taste and more fiber. The health you will achieve as a result will be well worth the effort!