What Is Dietary Fiber and Why Is It Good for You?
When you think of macronutrients, what comes to mind first? For many people, it’s protein, but dietary fiber is absolutely critical, as well. However, few of us actually consume the recommended amount of fiber each day. Not sure what role fiber plays in your diet or how to get it? We’ll cover that and more in this post.
What is Dietary Fiber?
Technically, fiber is a carbohydrate. Don’t worry, though. The C-word isn’t bad. In fact, your body can’t break down fiber, so it doesn’t decompose into sugar molecules the way other carbs do. You’ll find fiber in two flavors: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is a powerful tool for improved health, particularly for those struggling with diabetes or prediabetes. It can help lower glucose levels, as well as blood cholesterol. If you’re looking to add more soluble dietary fiber, some excellent soluble fiber foods include the following:
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. That means it plays a central role in helping move food through your body, and it also enhances digestive health. Good sources of insoluble fiber include the following:
- Whole grain bread
- Brown rice
How Much Do You Need?
On average, you should get between twenty and thirty grams of fiber every single day. However, most Americans consume about half that amount. This leads to serious problems, including diabetes, high cholesterol, and more.
We are only now really coming to appreciate the importance of digestive health (or gut health, if you prefer). Prebiotics help support the growth of gut flora (healthy bacteria and fungi that live in your digestive tract). Fiber plays an important role as a prebiotic and can alter the types of flora in your gut, supporting beneficial microorganisms and helping to eliminate those that aren’t so helpful to the body. Good sources of prebiotic dietary fiber include the following:
- Chicory root
Fiber Benefits: A Wide World of Better Health
Consuming more fiber can give you an edge in the fight against a broad range of diseases. It can help you reduce the risk in the first place, as well as reducing the symptoms if you have already developed one of the following diseases.
Heart disease is one of the most prevalent preventable diseases in the United States. According to the NIH National Cancer Institute, this is “a type of disease that affects the heart or blood vessels.” Atherosclerosis, stroke, and heart attack are just a few issues that fall under this heading. Foods high in dietary fiber can help reduce your risk of developing this disease.
Type II Diabetes
Soluble fiber helps control glucose in the blood, which makes these options low-glycemic index foods. Consuming more high-fiber foods helps reduce your chance of developing type 2 diabetes. In contrast, the standard American diet (SAD) increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by a significant amount because of the consumption of foods that cause sudden spikes in blood sugar.
While there have been no definitive conclusions regarding fiber’s impact on cancer, there is a correlation between higher fiber consumption and avoiding many types of cancer. However, Harvard’s research found no correlation between colon cancer and fiber consumption.
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool and helps move things through your digestive tract. However, it also slows down that movement, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer periods. If you’re full, you’re less likely to snack, which, in turn, reduces the number of calories consumed per day, helping you lose weight and win the battle of the bulge.
Digestive Health Issues
Fiber delivers a one-two punch that helps fight digestive health problems. It promotes good gut bacteria, which can help break down foods more thoroughly and extract critical nutrients. It also helps prevent constipation and promotes regularity.
How to Increase Fiber Intake
As you can see, getting the right amount of fiber is critical to good health and improving your microbiome. How do you increase your fiber intake, though? It can be surprisingly simple! Here are a few important tips that you can implement easily into your life.
- Fruit instead of juice—We all love a glass of fresh OJ, but you’re missing the most critical part of the fruit if all you do is drink the juice. Skip the glass and eat the orange (or apple, pear, etc.).
- Add in little extras—You can add a lot of fiber simply by tossing a handful of fresh berries or dried fruit into your bowl of cereal every morning.
- Go for the whole grains—Instead of white products (white bread, white pasta, etc.), go for whole-grain options. They taste just as good but deliver a powerful dose of fiber.
- Substitute products—Take a couple of dinners per week and swap out the meat for chickpeas or beans. You’ll still get all the protein, but you’ll also get the fiber your body needs.
- Change the dip—Instead of pita chips and dip, opt for fresh veggies. Broccoli, cauliflower, and other dippable vegetables pack in the fiber, plus they deliver other important nutrients.
Here’s to Your Health
The standard American diet is deficient in most of the nutrients that help us live long, happy lives. However, fiber may be the one that we will miss the most. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are critical in maintaining a healthy body and avoiding deadly diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Adding in fiber can also help you lose weight and feel better all that way around. Thankfully, it’s simple to make sure you’re getting the right amount of fiber in your diet. With intentionality and a commitment to being mindful about what you’re eating, you can avoid foods that deprive your body of nutrients and add in great-tasting options that boost fiber intake.
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