From our regular doctor’s appointments, to television commercials, we have all heard the same thing before: “you need to eat more fiber”. However, many of us do not really know what to eat or how much fiber we need every day.
What is Fiber
Fiber, or dietary fiber, is found in plant foods which we consume but cannot digest or absorb. Because it is not absorbed or digested, it passes through the body “whole” or intact. Fiber can be soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber (such as over the counter Benefiber) dissolves in water, but forms a gel-like substance. It has been found to be effective in lowering glucose and cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber is the bulkier fiber which helps move your food through your digestive track so that you do not have to deal with constipation or irregular stools. Based on its name, this fiber does not dissolve in water. For best health benefits, we should all eat a balanced diet of high-fiber foods consisting of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Benefits of Fiber
We are all constantly told to eat more fiber, but no one really tells us WHY we should be eating it. There are actually many surprising benefits to maintaining a diet rich in fiber.
- Fiber keeps your movements regular. Did you know that BOTH diarrhea AND constipation can be due to an insufficient amount of fiber consumed? Adding more fiber helps bulk up your stool which helps if you have loose or watery stools. Constipation is also a sure sign that you are not consuming enough fiber.
- Fiber helps keep your bowels healthy. Did you also know that eating your daily recommended fiber can help reduce your risk of developing hemorrhoids? Not only that, it may even help prevent colorectal cancer!
- Fiber lowers your cholesterol. Soluble fiber has been found to lower “bad cholesterol”. A decrease in this leads to a healthier heart and blood pressure.
- Fiber can protect against breast cancer. For all the ladies reading this, multiple studies online have concluded that women who had a higher intake of fiber, especially during their adolescence, had a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
- Fiber helps control your blood sugar levels. This is great news if you are a diabetic or pre-diabetic. Soluble fiber slows down the absorption of sugar. By doing this, you are also actively reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Fiber help you feel full longer. Because whole foods, such as produce and grains, contain a lot of fiber, you will feel more full for a longer period of time. This also means you will consume fewer calories over time. By incorporating more fiber into your diet, you just may see the numbers on your scale decrease.
How Much Fiber Should I Be Eating Daily?
Men 50 years or younger should consume about 38 grams of fiber, while men 51 and over should consume 30 grams. Women 50 years or younger should consume about 25 grams of fiber daily while women 51 and over should be consuming around 21 grams.
Where Does This Fiber Come From?
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Some examples of high-fiber fruits include apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries, and raspberries. Examples of high-fiber vegetables include darker-colored vegetables and potatoes. Be careful with potatoes, however, as they are very starchy and high in carbs, which can be negative in the long run.
- Chose whole-grain options as much as you can. You can do this by swapping out white bread for whole-grain bread, white rice for brown rice, and white flours for whole-grain flours.
- Chose high-fiber breakfast items. Plenty of breakfast items, such as cereals, oatmeal and whole-grain toast, are full of fiber and acts as a perfect morning substitute for unhealthier options such as sugary cereals and white bagels.
- Beans, legumes and lentils! All beans are packed with fiber, but navy and white beans tend to have the most. Beans are great because there is such a great variety and you can make so many flavorful dishes out of them. Beans are also full of protein. Other legumes such as peas, soybeans and lentils are also full of fiber.
- Fiber One bars! These are some of my favorite snacks. Most of them come in a dessert form, so you get to indulge in your sweet tooth while getting some of your daily fiber.
- Drink more water. Fiber works best with water, so it is best to always keep yourself hydrated.
Incorporating more fiber into your diet does not have to be difficult, but if you feel like you are still not getting enough fiber, you might want to turn to supplements. There is no evidence that fiber supplements are harmful, however, they do not provide adequate nutrition, such as vitamins and minerals, found in fiber-rich foods. Supplements can also decrease the absorption of certain medications (such as aspirin, carbamazepine and others.)
Suddenly increasing your fiber may cause abdominal bloating and gas. Be sure to slowly increase your fiber intake and drink plenty of fluids.
Final comment: Making sure you are getting enough dietary fiber is only one of the many great ways to maintain a healthy GI tract. Of course, if you are struggling with your fiber intake, or begin experiencing new GI issues, come in and see one of our providers here at Delta Gastroenterology.
Call our office at 662-280-8222 or email [email protected] if you have questions.
Ulric Duncan MD, Diplomate of Obesity Medicine
9140 Highway 51 North
Southaven MS 38671
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Written by Zeenat Mirza