Fiber is an essential part of your diet, and its importance cannot be overemphasized. We have all heard that we should eat plenty of fiber but before diving deep into the benefits of consuming fiber, let’s try to understand what exactly dietary fiber is and its role in our body so we can truly appreciate the importance of fiber in our diet.
What Exactly is Dietary Fiber?
Fiber, which is also called roughage, is a carbohydrate that you receive from plant-based foods that cannot be broken down by your body’s digestive enzymes. Although most carbohydrates are processed as sugar molecules in your body, fiber passes through your digestive system undigested. Fiber comes in a variety of chemical compositions and is generally categorized as soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble vs Insoluble Fiber
Even though both types of fibers are vital for our bodies, they differ on a basic functioning level. Here’s how they are different:
Soluble fiber is a fiber type that attracts water towards it, and resultantly, creates a gel. The gel-like substance slows down the digestion process and helps in weight loss. It can also help in reducing blood cholesterol and glucose levels.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, repels water and does not dissolve in it. It remains undigested as it moves through the digestive system, and as it is not processed, it is not a source of calories. It assists movement in the digestive tract.
Benefits of Fiber in Your Diet
There are many health benefits associated with having a high-fiber diet. Let’s look at each of these benefits individually and in-depth.
1. Aids in Bowel Movements
Having a good amount of dietary fiber helps increase the weight, size, and softness of your stool. As a result, it is easier to pass stool, and consequently, you reduce the chances of constipation which is a condition that nobody wants to be in. In addition to this, if you are having watery stools, dietary fiber helps to add bulk to your stool and solidifies it.
2. Helps Control Diabetes
The fiber in your diet helps control your blood sugar levels and this is particularly important for people with diabetes. Soluble fiber slows down the processing of carbs into sugar molecules i.e., the absorption of sugar, and therefore, helps in improving the blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber also reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. So, having a fiber-rich diet will be great for those trying to keep their blood sugar levels in check.
3. Weight Loss
Having additional fiber in your diet, you are sure to lose pounds and see a change. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that individuals having more than 30 gm of fiber a day and no other change in their diets lost a considerable amount of weight. What’s even more interesting is that the individuals having at least 30 gm of fiber each day lost almost the same amount of weight as those who had complex diets set up for particularly weight loss.
The reason behind fiber causing weight loss is that fiber-rich foods keep you satisfied longer and keep you filled. Not only this, but they also slow down or even prevent your body from processing and absorbing calories from the foods you eat. Fiber attaches itself to fat or sugar molecules as they go through the digestive tract which reduces the number of calories you receive from these molecules. All of this causes a significant amount of weight loss.
4. Lower Chances of Heart Disease and Cholesterol Levels
A study published in the BMJ found that the chances of having heart disease reduce by 9% by every 7 grams of fiber your intake in a day. This is partially explained by fiber’s ability to reduce cholesterol levels in your blood which clog up your arteries and be a potential cause of a heart attack.
Soluble fiber found in different food items such as beans, oats, etc., help in reducing the low-density lipoproteins in your blood and clear up your blood from the bad cholesterol, and as such, reducing the chances of heart disease. It also reduces blood pressure and aids in inflammation.
5. Reduces Risk of Cancer
On top of all these benefits, having a fiber-rich diet also reduces the chances of having certain types of cancers. A study published in the Annals of Oncology says that 10% reduced chances of having colorectal cancer and 5% reduced chances of having breast cancer, for every 10 gm of fiber you consume daily.
Apart from this, fiber-rich food such as fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that also reduce the risk of getting cancer. All in all, fiber has great anti-cancer effects and should be a vital part of everyone’s diet.
6. Natural Detox
We have all heard about juicing and its ability to detox our bodies. However, we don’t need all of this when we can simply have fiber in our diet and cleanse our bodies. Fiber has a natural ability that detox toxins from your gastrointestinal tract. According to Zuckerbrot, a registered dietician, soluble fiber takes up potentially harmful compounds before they can be processed and absorbed by the body.
Moreover, insoluble fiber pushes things to move faster through the GI tract, harmful compounds only remain for a short period of time in your body, thus reducing the risk of any potential adverse effects on your body.
7. Maintains Good Gut Health
A diet that is rich in fiber will lower the risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticular disease. In addition to this, fiber also helps maintain a healthy gut microbiome as they feed on fiber. This microbiome then produces short-chain fatty acids that have several different benefits such as lowering inflammation. But, to reap these benefits of fiber, you must continue to intake enough grams of fiber daily.
The benefits of having fiber in your diet are plenty and we have highlighted many of them in detail above. Let’s now discuss what are some of the foods that are rich in fiber. But before that, we need to know the recommended daily intake of fiber per day.
As per the American Heart Association, the basic daily value of fiber is 25 grams per day for a 2,000-calorie diet for an adult. However, this number varies and depends on the sex and the age of the individual.
21 to 25 grams per day are recommended for women who are under 50 whereas 30 to 38 grams per day are recommended for men who are under 50. As for children between 1 and 18, they should have around 14 to 31 grams of fiber a day.
Many food items are packed with fiber, but here are some fabulous fiber finds.
- Pears: they contain about 3.1 grams of fiber per 100 grams of pear. They are tasty, healthy, and nutritious fruit that is rich in fiber. Approximately 5.5 grams of fiber are in a medium-sized raw pear.
- Strawberries: yet another delicious food item that you can have that is also rich in fiber. It has 2 grams per 100 grams or about 3 grams in a cup of fresh strawberries. In addition to fiber, strawberries are one of the most nutrient-packed fruits you can have, so increased the daily intake of strawberries will not only push up the fiber intake but also other healthy nutrients too.
- Avocado: avocado is also full of good fats and contains a good load of fiber which is around 6.7 grams per 100 grams or 10 grams in a cup of raw avocado. Even more so, it is rich in vitamin C, potassium, and other nutrients that yield great health benefits. It is a great food item to source your fiber from.
- Lentils: these are also full of fiber, a one-half cup that is cooked has around 8 grams of fiber in it. Lentils can be used in a wide variety of dishes such as soups, casseroles, etc. It helps in replacing the fat in different ingredients and makes you feel fuller.
- Raspberries: another type of berry that is rich in fiber. They contain about 8 grams of fiber in a cup of raspberries. They are very tasty and also contain other nutrients such as vitamin C and manganese.
- Kidney Beans: a type of legume such as lentils, they are packed with plant-based fiber and many other nutrients. Kidney beans contain about 12.2 grams of fiber in a cooked cup.
You can check out many other foods that are full of fiber here.
Fiber is absolutely essential for your body, and it should not be overlooked. The types of fibers, soluble & insoluble, both play an important role in yielding the benefits of fiber such as weight loss, heart health, reduction in the risk of cancer, and maintenance of a healthy gut microbiome. All these health benefits can be reaped quite easily by increasing the intake of fiber to the recommended level. We have also highlighted some top food items that are packed with fiber.