Fiber is the golden key … to weight control, heart health, and the digestive system. When I choose foods, particularly anything that comes in a package, it is one of the two (the other being sugar) most important line items in the nutritional panel. No, not calories. No, not fat. Fiber. Yes, fiber.
Let’s start with the basics. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. Unlike other carbs, fiber cannot be broken down into sugar molecules. Instead, it passes through the body undigested. This is precisely why fiber is so important.
There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Basically, soluble fiber attracts water and forms a gel to slow down digestion, and insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, keeping our digestive tract clean and healthy. Both are equally important.
In general the best sources for fiber are whole grain foods, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts.
Health Benefits Of High-Fiber Nutrition
There’s a ton of research that demonstrates the connection between high-fiber foods and health. Here’s some of the biggest contenders. Fiber:
- Helps Control Blood Sugar Levels — Diets high in fiber slow the absorption of sugar and keep blood sugar from spiking. Maintaining your blood sugar level not only reduces systemic inflammation, but also prevents the crash and burn you feel after consuming too much sugar at one time. Foods to eat include: oatmeal, beans, nuts, lentils, barley, carrots, apples (with the skin), and blueberries.
- Prevents Type 2 Diabetes — The sudden increase in blood sugar caused by consuming low-fiber and high in sugar increases the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. High-fiber foods, however, is linked to a lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Foods to eat include: whole-wheat flour, sproated grain products, bran, nuts, brown rice, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes.
- Promotes Weight Loss — For people who have weight to lose, fiber reduces calorie absorption. Why? Because fiber is not absorbed by the body. The calorie of a high-fiber food is not equal to the calorie of a low-fiber food. Also, when a person who is trying to lose weight increases their daily fiber intake they will likely eat less. Fiber increases the feeling of fullness. For more on this read The Myth of Calories In, Calories Out.
- Supports A Healthy Heart —According to the Harvard School of Public Health research demonstrates a link between a high intake of dietary fiber and a lower risk of heart disease. In two Harvard studies, one focused on men and the other focused on women, researchers found that hight total dietary fiber intake was linked to a 40% lower risk of coronary heart disease. 40%!!!!
- Reduces Blood Pressure — An increase in dietary fiber is linked to a significant reduction in blood pressure levels among people with high blood pressure or hypertension. Overall, results published in the Journal of Hypertension showed that adding fiber to the diet was associated with a significant reduction in both systolic (the top number in a blood pressure reading) and diastolic (the bottom number) blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
- Reduces Cholesterol — Soluble fiber, in particular, helps lower cholesterol levels. The theory is that when soluble fiber creates a gel it binds some of the cholesterol in the small intestine and takes it out of the body. When choosing grain foods make sure the serving has a minimum of 3 grams of fiber. Those “whole grain” stamps on packaging can be very misleading.
- Protects Against Stroke — Researchers have found that for every additional seven grams of fiber you consume on a daily basis, your stroke risk is decreased by 7%. Pretty amazing, right?
- Prevents Diverticulitis — According to Harvard School of Public Health, diverticulitis, an inflammation of the intestine, is “one of the most common age-related disorders of the colon in Western society. One long-term study found that fiber, particularly insoluble fiber, reduced the risk of diverticular disease by 40!
- Helps Maintain Bowel Health — A high fiber diet has been shown to relieve and prevent constipation and lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids. Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the United States, according to Harvard. Eat your fiber!
How Much Is Enough?
Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, Dr. Andrew Weil recommends eating 40 grams of fiber a day. Clearly no one eats exactly 2,000 calories a day. In using that ratio, though, aim for 2% of your daily caloric intake as fiber. So, if your average day is 1,500 calories, your fiber aim is 30 grams. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating your calories and then underestimating your fiber needs, it’s better to have a few grams above your aim rather than not enough.
Also, as you increase the amount of fiber in your diet gradually to allow your body to adapt. Because some fibers absorb water, you should also drink more water as you increase fiber.