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Dietary Fiber: Why It's Important and Where To Find It

August 23, 2021

Considering the role that dietary fiber play in our lives, it’s easy to understand why most Americans don’t spend a lot of time talking about it. In a nutshell, these indigestible carbohydrates are responsible for bulking up the size and weight of our stool, making it easier for the body to eliminate waste. That makes it a key part of a healthy diet – and something that has other unexpected health benefits. 

Despite this, only one in 10 Americans eats enough of it. Fiber is typically found in plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables and grains. The trick is figuring out exactly where to find it. Here are some general guidelines on how to add fiber to your daily diet and why it’s essential to maintaining digestive and overall health. 

The Two Fibers 

We can break fibers into two groups: insoluble and soluble. Both are found in varying degrees in some of the foods we eat. Each is important for different reasons. 

Soluble fiber absorbs water to soften your stool and move it smoothly through the digestive tract. These undigested foods create “bulk” that pushes waste out of the body. 

You can find soluble fiber in: 

  • Avocados

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Figs

  • Oats

  • Apples

  • Beans

  • Peas

  • Lentils 

Insoluble fiber forms a gel-like substance that slows the absorption of blood sugar. It also helps remove cholesterol through the feces. 

You can find insoluble fiber in: 

  • Beans

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Avocados

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Pears

  • Carrots

  • Nuts

  • Seeds

  •   Wheat 

Crucial to Your Health 

Both fibers provide key health benefits that help the body guard against acute and chronic diseases and inflammation, including: 

  • Constipation and digestion (insoluble) Keeps bowel movements soft and regulated by absorbing water and speeding up the movement of stool through the intestine. 

  • Weight loss (insoluble) Increases fullness and decreases appetite. 

  • Colon cancer (soluble) Helps food move smoothly through the colon. 

  • LDL Cholesterol (soluble) Decreases risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes by promoting a healthy gut microbiome and controlling blood sugar. 

As the dietary fiber in the food you eat enhances the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, it also provides health benefits that can boost immune responses and mental health

Not eating enough of it can cause constipation, which is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancers and hemorrhoids. That’s because your body is forced to work harder to get rid of waste.

How Much Is Enough? 

It’s better to stick with whole foods over processed foods to ensure you’re getting all the necessary fiber and nutrients you need. In high-fiber bars, for example, inulin (a type of fiber) is added to help digestion by increasing the number of good bacteria in the gut. An unfortunate side effect of inulin is gas and bloating, so exercise caution and eat these foods in moderation. 

When reading a nutrition label, look for foods with five or more grams of fiber. Be mindful about where that fiber is coming from. Whole fibers, like those found in whole wheat spaghetti, are better for your digestive health. 

But how much fiber is enough for you? Current USDA guidelines suggest these daily amounts: 

  • Women under 50: 25 grams

  • Women over 50: 21 grams

  • Men under 50: 38 grams

  • Men over 50: 30 grams 

If you need a fiber supplement for medical reasons – like chronic hemorrhoids – look for psyllium-based products that aren’t high in sugar. 

If you’re looking for ways to increase your fiber intake, consider adding prebiotic foods (artichokes, asparagus and bananas, for example) to your diet. These are a great source of fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your gut.

 

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