Dietary fiber is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But foods containing fiber can provide other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight, lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Dietary fiber includes the parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike the other components of foods, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates — which your body breaks down and absorbs — fiber isn’t digested by your body. Instead, it passes intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon and out of your body.
Fiber is usually classified as soluble, which dissolves in water, or insoluble, which doesn’t dissolve.
- Soluble fiber – This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.
- Insoluble fiber – This type of fiber helps food move through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, basically it helps you poop. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.
Benefits of a high fiber diet:
- Normalizes and helps maintain bowel health – A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease). Some fiber is fermented in the colon. Researchers are looking at how this may play a role in preventing diseases of the colon.
- Lowers cholesterol levels- Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that high-fiber foods may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
- Helps control blood sugar levels – Soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels in diabetics. A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Helps achieve and maintain a healthy weight – High-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods, so you’re likely to eat less and stay satisfied longer. And high-fiber foods tend to take longer to eat and to be less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
It’s always best to get nutrients and dietary needs from whole foods. Some people may benefits from supplements if they are constipated, however these supplements do not have any dietary nutrients. Fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, whole grains and nuts/seeds are all good sources of fiber.
While high fiber foods are healthy, it is best to increase fiber intake gradually to avoid bloating, cramping and gas. Don’t forget to drink up, fiber works best when it absorbs water.