Benefits of fiber
Michele Grim, MBA, is a registered dietitian at Page Hospital in Page, Ariz.
Question: Everyone talks about the benefits of fiber. Is it really that important?
Answer: When someone talks about eating more fiber thoughts tend to drift toward one of fiber’s more unpleasant benefits: curing constipation.
While preventing constipation is one of the most talked about reasons for eating more fiber, it certainly is not the only benefit you will receive by increasing your intake of fiber.
The American Heart Association recommends 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day. It is best to slowly increase the amount of fiber in your diet and to drink plenty of fluids. You should set a goal of drinking at least 8 cups of fluids per day and you may need even more fluid as you eat higher amounts of fiber because fluid helps your body process fiber without discomfort.
Here is what fiber can do for your body:
- Lower cholesterol- Soluble fiber lowers LDL, or bad cholesterol. Soluble fiber is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables.
- Weight loss- Foods that are higher in fiber help you to feel fuller for a longer period of time. This can help you to lose weight because you are feeling fuller on fewer calories.
- Preventing diverticular disease- Diverticulosis is a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract and can result in painful ulcerations of the intestinal lining. High fiber foods help avoid the development of diverticular disease. During bouts of diverticulitis (periods of painful inflammation) it is recommended to eat foods low in fiber.
- Blood sugar control- Foods that are higher in fiber take a longer time for the body to break down and turn into blood sugar. This means that a high fiber food, such as an apple, will break down slowly, rising blood sugar at a slower (more desirable) rate than a low fiber food, such as a piece of chocolate.
Good sources of fiber:
- Fruits and vegetables top the list of high fiber foods. The current recommendation is to eat at least 5 servings a day of a combination of fruits and vegetables.
- Wheat and bran cereals, breads, tortillas, pastas, and beans also can pack a powerful amount of fiber. The key is to read the product’s Nutrition Facts label to be sure you are getting a good amount of fiber from the brand that you buy. Foods that are high in fiber will contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Some brands can provide more than 10 grams of fiber per serving!
- Fiber supplements such as Metameucil, Benefiber, Citrucel, and Konsyl can help increase fiber in the diet of those people that have difficulty getting fiber from foods.
- Functional foods, those foods with added nutrients, are another good source of fiber. For instance, yogurts, juices and other types of typically low fiber foods have had fiber added to them during processing.
The benefits of fiber are not limited to just what is listed in this article. Medical studies continue to confirm the benefits of eating fiber which range from gut and cardiovascular health to cancer prevention and beyond.