Though many of us have been told to eat more fiber, many don’t really understand what that means. What is fiber exactly, and how can you incorporate it into your diet?
Dietary fiber is a substance — abundantly found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes — that your body can’t digest or absorb. You may be wondering how fiber can benefit you if you can’t digest or absorb it, but eating fiber provides many health benefits for your body. These include maintaining a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
There are two kinds of fiber:
- Soluble fiber – When dissolving in water, soluble fiber forms a gel-like material that helps to lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. This can be found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots and barley.
- Insoluble fiber – Insoluble fiber enhances the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can benefit those who experience irregular bowel movements. Good sources of insoluble fiber include whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables like cauliflower, green beans and potatoes.
Most plant-based foods will have both kinds of fiber, but some will contain more of one than the other. Aim to eat a wide variety of fiber-rich foods to ensure you are getting enough fiber.
How fiber can help you
There are many ways fiber can benefit your overall health. These include:
Normalizing bowel movements
Dietary fiber helps to bulk up and soften your stool. An increased weight and size of stool will help your body more easily pass it through your digestive system. On the other hand, if your stools are too loose or watery, fiber can help solidify them.
Maintaining bowel health
Consuming a high-fiber diet can help reduce your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (known as diverticulitis) by reducing inflammation.
Lowering cholesterol levels
Soluble fiber helps to lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels and can help to reduce blood pressure and inflammation.
Helping control blood sugar levels
For those who have to watch their blood sugar, especially those who are diabetic, a diet high in soluble fiber can help to control blood sugar levels. Soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar into the blood, which helps to prevent or control type 2 diabetes.
Achieving or maintaining a healthy weight
High-fiber meals tend to be more filling, which will help you stay fuller for longer. High-fiber foods often take longer to chew and are “energy dense,” so you can get more food for fewer calories.
If you would like to speak with a gastroenterologist about your digestive health, call the specialists at Hunterdon Gastroenterology Associates today at (908) 483-4000 to schedule your appointment.