We are often informed by health professionals that fiber is good for our health, especially that fiber may assist with constipation, heart health, blood glucose control, some types of cancer, and weight management. So, what are the benefits of dietary fiber and how can we incorporate more into our meals?
Dietary fiber is beneficial for the health of your bowel system in a number of ways. One way in particular is that fiber helps to keep your bowel movements regular, which in turn minimizes constipation. Fiber may help to soften your stool or add bulk to your stool when needed. Fiber may also be beneficial towards decreasing your risk of hemorrhoids. Heart health benefits of fiber include lowering bad cholesterol levels, also known as low density lipoprotein (LDL). Dietary fiber also helps to slow down the digestion of food that is consumed. Slower food digestion may aid to improve blood glucose control and feel fuller for longer.
There are two types of dietary fiber; soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is broken down in your colon. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps move food through our digestive system.
The content of soluble and insoluble fiber in foods vary, which is why it is important to get a variety of high fiber foods. As a general rule of thumb, 25-30 grams of fiber each day is a good amount to strive for. Be sure to discuss your individualized needs with your doctor before making any changes to your diet, such as increasing your fiber intake. After you discuss your individualized goals with your doctor and they say it is ok to increase your fiber intake, begin increasing your daily fiber intake gradually. It may also be a good idea to increase your fluid intake gradually as well, however, be sure to discuss your fluid requirements with your doctor too. Increasing your fiber intake too quickly may result in gastrointestinal effects such as bloating or gas.
You can identify a high fiber food by reading the nutrition facts label. A high fiber food is 5 grams or per more serving. A good source of fiber is 2.5-4.9 grams per serving. Fiber is generally found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and legumes. Keep the skin on your fruits and vegetables, such as pears, potatoes, as an easy way to increase your daily fiber intake. Aim for at least one high fiber food at each meal and/or snack, such as adding black beans to your chicken burrito or add an apple with skin or berries in your salad. Make half of your grain selection whole grains by selecting oatmeal for breakfast and whole wheat bread or a wrap for lunch. Refined foods tend to contain less fiber because the process removes the bran from the grain. Select peas, artichoke, or a sweet potato for a dinner side, which helps to increase your daily vegetable and fiber intake concurrently.