Importance of Fiber in Digestive Health
Fiber is not only a necessary nutrient but it’s also a healthy eater’s best friend. It fills you up, keeps you satisfied, improves your heart health by lowering cholesterol, helps prevent diabetes, and is found in a wide variety of delicious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and seeds. It’s hard to believe that all of these health benefits can come from one good-for-you nutrient! Fiber actually refers to carbohydrates that cannot be digested and comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. The soluble kind, found in oats, beans and peas, partially dissolves in water and helps lower cholesterol, while the insoluble kind does not dissolve and helps food move through our digestive tract, preventing constipation. Many fiber-filled foods actually have a combination of the two types.
Our digestive health relies on fiber. Without it, things wouldn’t move so smoothly through our intestines. Think of soluble fiber like a sponge that draws water into your stool, making waste softer and easier to pass through your plumbing. Insoluble fiber, which goes through our intestines largely intact, can be found in foods like the skins of fruits, whole wheat products, nuts and seeds. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool, which moves it along through your pipes promoting regularity and preventing constipation. Speedily moving waste through our colon in less time, fiber also helps prevent colon cancer by keeping an optimal pH in the intestines and preventing cancerous substances from forming.
With all these phenomenal benefits of a high fiber diet, you may be wondering how to get your fill. The American Dietetic Association recommends that women ages 19 to 50 get at least 25 grams of fiber each day, and men in the same age group get 38 grams. Most Americans only get half that amount, but a few dietary fixes can help you meet your fiber needs.
Choose whole grains over their refined counterparts, like whole wheat pasta, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, whole wheat bread, and whole grain cereal. Don’t be fooled by brown colored “wheat” products that appear to be whole grain. Look for the words “100% whole wheat” or “whole wheat flour” listed first in the ingredient list to be sure.
Enjoy a serving or more of fruits or vegetables with every meal and snack. This is an easy and delicious way to reach the daily goal of 11 servings per day, and meet your fiber needs. 100% fruit or vegetable juice doesn’t contain any fiber, so be sure to choose whole fruits and veggies.
Enjoy nuts and seeds for snacks, and more! Nuts and seeds, like almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds, contain fiber along with heart-healthy fats. While they make a convenient snack to have on hand, you can also add them to grain dishes, stir fries, and crunchy toppings for baked goods.
Beans really are the magical fruit for digestive health and you can use them in a wide variety of recipes. Replace half of the ground meat in your recipes with mashed beans, blend them to make a creamy dip, or even try them in baked goods like black bean brownies (you can’t even taste the mashed beans!).
Sure, you can use a fiber supplement to help meet your daily needs, but it’s not as appetizing as a diet filled with fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. And along with all that fiber, you’ll get the benefits of the other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that come with those nutrient packed foods.
*Please keep in mind that the information on this site does not constitute medical advice. Before embarking on any weight loss plan or making dietary changes, you should consult your doctor.