The health benefits of fiber are truly life-changing. You’ve probably heard that you should include plenty of fiber in your diet every day. Additionally, you probably are aware that it promotes weight loss and good is for your heart.
But, what makes fiber a ROCK STAR and why does everyone from your physician to your fitness instructor recommends it? Let’s dig in, but before that, here is a quick primer on fiber.
What is fiber and what are the health benefits of fiber?
Overall, fiber is the primary reason why plant-based food is good for you. It is a part of the plant that gives it its form and structure. It helps build plant molecules, such as lignans, pectin, and cellulose. In terms of nutrition, Dietary fiber is a non–digestible polysaccharide, which means it’s a complex form of carbohydrate (poly = “many”; saccharide = “sugar.”)
Although it is a carbohydrate, your body’s digestive enzymes cannot break them down, as a result, fiber passes through the system and gets eliminated. But, a lot happens during this transit, and that’s what makes fiber your best friend. And by the way, fiber is not a significant source of calories!
Fiber is present in fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes – all the good stuff that is always recommended by healthcare professionals. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble.
First is soluble fiber, which dissolves partially in water and forms a gel-like substance. Foods like oats, oat bran, nuts, peas, seeds, lentils, beans, etc., are rich in soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is attracted to water and therefore turns to a gel like substance during digestion. This slows digestion This is why you feel full for longer after eating a fiber-rich meal. It also helps lower cholesterol.
Secondly, insoluble fiber is a type of fiber does not dissolve in water and adds bulk to stool. This property helps improve bowel movements and prevents constipation. Foods rich in insoluble fiber include whole grains like bulgur, barley, brown rice, root vegetables, broccoli, green beans, carrot, etc.
Luckily, you don’t need to worry about the type of fiber you’re eating as long as you are getting enough of it through your diet. Therefore, you should make it a priority to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and beans.
Be sure to choose whole foods instead of processed foods and eat a wide range of fiber-rich foods it will cover your daily fiber needs.
How Does Eating Dietary Fiber Benefit You?
Overall, dietary fiber improves your health in many ways. However, here is a simplified list with the top five health benefits of fiber.
#1. Keeps Your Blood Sugar in Check & Reduces Your Risk of Developing Diabetes
Firstly, soluble fiber helps slow down the digestion process, the key to keeping your blood sugar levels stable too!
How? When the digestion process is slower, the release of sugar (glucose) from food happens at a slower rate. In other words, it prevents that sudden rush of sugar to your bloodstream. (This typically occurs when eating a sugary food).
Instead, a gradual rise in blood sugar from dietary fiber allows time for the pancreas to release just enough insulin to transport glucose to cells. Having low insulin levels is extremely good for you because it improves the sensitivity of insulin to glucose molecules. This way, there is an efficient blood sugar balance in place.
This kind of sugar balance is crucial to prevent conditions like diabetes. Studies show that higher the intake of dietary fiber lower is the rise in blood sugar level. So, eating high-fiber foods improves insulin function and lowers the risk of diabetes, obesity and related chronic diseases.
#2. Feeds Your Healthy Gut Bacteria
Another one of the benefits of fiber is that it improves your gut health. Taking enough dietary fiber also promotes the health of your gut by encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria. Good bacteria are critical for improving mood, boosting immune health and more.
How? In a nutshell, the non-digestible dietary fiber acts as fuel or “food” for the intestinal bacteria. This means that the good bacteria in your gut have the enzymes to digest fiber and release short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). Propionate and butyrate are SCFA’s that help lower inflammation and improve digestive disorders such as ulcerative colitis.
#3. Promotes Weight Loss
If you are serious about losing weight, then including enough dietary fiber can make a significant difference in your weight loss efforts. A study found that a simple change such as including more fiber (about 30 grams per day) was more effective in achieving weight loss when compared to adopting complicated diet regimens. The study was a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) – the gold standard for research evidence.
How? Well, soluble fibers soak up water in the intestines, which makes you feel full. Soluble fiber promotes early signals of satiation as well as prolongs the feeling of fullness resulting in reduced hunger.
#4. Lowers Your Risk of Prediabetes & Type 2 Diabetes
Yet another one of the health benefits of fiber is that it decreases your risk for diabetes. In fact, research shows that a high intake of dietary fiber helps to reduce the risk of diabetes. A study found a 29% reduction in the development of diabetes when the diet included fiber in the form of whole grain cereal. The Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study reported an RCT in which individuals with the highest level of fiber consumption had a 62% reduction in progression of prediabetes to diabetes over 4.1-year period compared to those with the lowest fiber intake.
How? Dietary fiber improves postprandial (after meal) blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. As a result, your body uses blood glucose more effectively. In other words, it makes it so that you will require only small amounts of insulin to lower blood sugar.
Postprandial blood sugar and poor insulin sensitivity pose a challenge for patients with diabetes. However, dietary fiber improves both these factors!
#5. Lowers Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer
If you want to lower your risk of colorectal cancer, then fill up your plate with plenty of fiber. Large population-based studies show that a high intake of dietary fiber lowers the risk of colorectal cancer.
How? Researchers postulate several plausible mechanisms for fiber’s protective effects against colorectal cancer. Reduced transit time, dilution of cancer-causing agents in fecal matter, production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that are anti-inflammatory and also anti-cancer in nature.
The daily recommended fiber intake for adults is between 25–30 grams of fiber per day, yet most get only about 15 grams or less. There are plenty of delicious ways to load up on fiber and meet your daily requirements.
Stay tuned for the upcoming blog post – “Simple Ways to Amp up Your Daily Fiber Intake.”
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