Your Body Needs More Fiber: Understand The Health Benefits

You’ve probably heard about the importance of fiber in your diet. But if you’re like most Americans, you’re not getting nearly as much as you should. That’s because the typical American diet is loaded with processed foods that have been refined to remove fiber. Just think how much easier it is to find white bread and white rice than it is to find the whole-grain varieties, which still contain fiber. Or how much larger the chip section is at the convenience store than the nuts and seeds section.

For many Americans, convenience is the name of the game when they’re hungry. We grab food that’s fast and easy, rather than what our bodies need. And that’s very true when it comes to fiber. But the good news is that it’s quite easy to increase fiber in your diet. In this article, we’ll talk about the role of fiber in the diet, how to get more fiber in your diet, and why it’s so important to increase fiber in your diet.

What is fiber?

Dietary fiber is the part of plant foods that your body doesn’t digest. Instead, it passes through the stomach and intestines and comes out in your stool. Fiber is sometimes referred to as roughage or bulk.

Types of fiber

There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. You may wonder which type of fiber is better for you, but the truth is that each type of fiber has a role in your diet.

apple, oats in a bowl and milk on a table

Both types of fiber – soluble and insoluble – have a significant role to play in your diet.

Soluble fiber

This is the type of fiber that can dissolve in water and form a gel. You’ll find soluble fiber in legumes, oats, peas, apples, psyllium husk, carrots, and citrus. (1)(2) Soluble fibers have been shown to improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels. (1)

Insoluble fiber

This is the type of fiber that does not dissolve in water. This is the type of fiber that can bulk up the stool and make it softer, helping with digestive regularity. (2) You’ll find insoluble fiber in whole-wheat products, beans, nuts, potatoes, cauliflower, and green beans. (1)

What is the role of fiber in our diet?

Even though we don’t digest fiber, it still plays an important role in our digestion. Fiber is probably best known for helping to relieve constipation. And research confirms what we know intuitively—fiber does make you more regular. (3)

But we now know that fiber has more far-reaching health effects, lowering the risks of several diseases—and even of risk of dying from any cause. (4) New research is beginning to reveal just how fiber is able to have such varied—and positive—health effects.

One major role that fiber plays is that it feeds the beneficial microbes in the digestive system. These microbes—known collectively as the microbiome—are linked to a wide variety of health concerns, including obesity, immune function, blood sugar regulation, and more. (5) Feeding the good bacteria in our microbiome helps to protect against bad bacteria. And that’s important for keeping the whole body healthy. (6)(7)

Health benefits of fiber in your diet

The research is clear and abundant—fiber is good for you. In fact, Tufts University maintains a database on published manuscripts on the health effects of fiber, and it’s at over 1,000 papers and counting. (8)

Here are just a few areas of health that may benefit from increased fiber in your diet: (5)

  • Heart health
  • Digestive health
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • Weight loss

Fiber for digestive health

As we’ve noted, fiber plays an important role in digestive health. But it doesn’t just relieve constipation. It can also help with loose stools by absorbing water from the stool and making it bulkier. Besides, high-fiber diets can help lower the risk of colon problems, including diverticular disease and hemorrhoids. (9)(10)

Fiber for heart health

A diet that’s fueled by ultra-processed foods—which are notoriously low in fiber—is a recipe for cardiovascular disease risk. (11) A high-fiber diet, on the other hand, has been shown to protect the heart. (12)

One of the ways that fiber—especially soluble fiber—helps heart health is by lowering cholesterol. (13) Also, fiber may lower blood pressure and curb inflammation. (1)(5)(14)(15)

woman looking at phone with smoothie in hand in workout clothing

Studies show that fiber supplements help you feel fuller and might be able to help with weight loss too.

Fiber for weight loss

Another way that fiber can help your overall health is by making it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Since fiber is bulky but low in calories, it can help you feel fuller for longer—and help you eat fewer calories. (16)

Research shows that if you’re trying to lose weight, the amount of fiber you eat is directly linked to your chances of success. (17) Fiber supplements might be able to help with weight loss too, according to some studies. (18)(19)

Fiber and blood sugar management

Blood sugar issues are a major health concern worldwide. In fact, experts expect that there will be more than 550 million cases of diabetes in the world by 2030. (20) Diet is a major factor in developing Type 2 diabetes—the most common form. (21)

One reliable way to reduce diabetes risk is to increase fiber intake. (21) Fiber also can help people keep their diabetes in check by slowing sugar absorption and keeping blood sugar levels steady. (1) The microbiome may play a role here as well. Research has shown that shifting the composition of the microbiome can change blood sugar regulation, so fiber’s effects on the microbiome could be part of the reason that it can help moderate glucose levels. (22)

Fiber for metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome—also sometimes referred to as Syndrome X or insulin resistance syndrome—is diagnosed when you have at least three of these related risk factors: (23)

Metabolic syndrome increases your likelihood of developing several other conditions—including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke—so addressing it as early as possible is very important. (23)

One way to do that is by increasing fiber intake. Which makes sense, since fiber can help with weight loss, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar—all components of metabolic syndrome.

Fiber can even protect against not-so-great diets

In one study, researchers gave the insoluble fiber inulin to mice who were eating unhealthy, high-fat, low-fiber diets. (24) The diet had caused the mice to gain weight and develop metabolic syndrome. But adding inulin to their diet seemed to protect them against some of the bad effects of their diet and protect them against metabolic syndrome.

The reason? Gut bacteria. Extra fiber seemed to counteract the harm that an unhealthy diet does to the microbiome. The researchers concluded that “fermentable fiber protects against metabolic syndrome by nourishing microbiota.” (24)

How much fiber do you need in your diet?

Adequate intake of fiber varies based on age and gender. The chart below will tell you the minimum amount you should aim for each day. (25)

How much fiber you need depends on your gender, age, and stage in life.

How to get more fiber in your diet

Most Americans are not getting as much fiber as they need. (26) If you want to increase fiber in your diet, the best thing you can do is increase the number of plants you eat. Add more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and seeds to your diet, and you’ll naturally get closer to the recommended intakes.

Variety is important too since different foods contain different types of fiber, and they’re all important in maintaining overall health. Plus, the microbiome thrives on variety!

Increase fiber in your diet with these foods

These whole foods are some of the best choices when you want to get more fiber in your diet. (27) These are all the high-fiber foods with their cooralating grams of fiber per 100 g serving:

  • Corn bran – 79
  • Pinon nuts – 43
  • Flaxseed – 27
  • Bulgur – 18
  • Barley – 16
  • Rye flour – 15
  • Popcorn – 15
  • Wheat flour (whole-grain) – 12
  • Almonds – 12
  • Shiitake mushrooms – 11
  • Sunflower seeds – 11
  • Oats – 11
  • Pistachios – 10
  • Dried figs – 10
  • Hazelnuts – 10
  • Pecans – 10
  • Peanuts – 9
  • Cooked beans (kidney, pinto, black) – 9
  • Artichokes – 9
  • Dried apples – 9
  • Millet – 8
  • Split peas – 8
  • Lentils – 8
  • Baked potatoes with skin – 8
  • Chickpeas – 8
  • Avocado – 7
  • Raspberries – 6
  • Guava – 5
  • Blackberries – 5
  • Peas – 5
  • Acorn squash – 4
  • Brussel sprouts – 4
  • Spinach – 4
  • Pomegranate – 4
  • Broccoli – 3
  • Corn – 3
  • Eggplant – 3
  • Cauliflower – 3
  • Pears – 3
  • Apples – 3
  • Bananas – 3

The bottom line

Adding a variety of fibers to your diet is one of the most effective ways of improving your overall health. It’s key to a healthy heart, weight loss, blood sugar control, and more.

If you’re ready to start adding more fiber to your diet, be sure to take it slowly so you don’t experience gas, bloating, or intestinal discomfort. Add some extra plant foods to your diet, and be sure to increase your water intake at the same time. Over time you’ll reap the benefits of a high-fiber diet, all while adding more flavor and variety to your plate!

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