The Importance of Fiber in our Diet
Here’s how healthy fiber helps digestive health -- and why you need to get more of it.
- Regularity. Fiber, particularly insoluble fiber, can help people prevent constipation. It bulks up stools and keeps food moving through the digestive tract.
- Healthy bacteria. You might have heard of probiotoics -- healthy bacteria that live in your intestines. Some types of soluble fiber are considered a prebiotic -- a fuel that feeds these healthy bacteria and increases their numbers. What do these bacteria do? They boost digestive health. And some studies suggest that they might have far-reaching effects, perhaps improving the immune response and preventing allergy development.
- Diverticulitis. This painful condition is caused when pockets in the intestines rupture and become infected. One study found that a diet high in healthy fiber -- insoluble fiber in particular -- could reduce the risk of diverticular disease by 40%. Other studies suggest that a high-fiber diet can ease symptoms in people who have the condition and prevent future exacerbations.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) and ulcers. The evidence is not clear yet. But some studies have suggested that a high-fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of GERD and duodenal ulcers. Some soluble fibers have been linked with lower levels of gastric acid.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS.) There is some evidence that certain types of fiber supplements – such as those containing psyllium, guar gum, and methylcellulose -- could help with IBS. However, high-fiber wheat bran seems to worsen symptoms.
- Soluble fiber, like that found in cucumbers, blueberries, beans, and nuts, dissolves into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer and is one reason why fiber may help with weight control.
- Insoluble fiber, found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, celery, and carrots, does not dissolve at all and helps add bulk to your stool. This helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination. Many whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, naturally contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
- Blood sugar control: Soluble fiber may help to slow your body’s breakdown of carbohydrates and the absorption of sugar, helping with blood sugar control.
- Weight loss and management: Fiber supplements have been shown to enhance weight loss among obese people, likely because fiber increases feelings of fullness.
- Skin health: Fiber, particularly psyllium husk, may help move yeast and fungus out of your body, preventing them from being excreted through your skin where they could trigger acne or rashes.
- Hemorrhoids: A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of hemorrhoids.
- Gallstones and kidney stones: A high-fiber diet may reduce the risk of gallstones and kidney stones, likely because of its ability to help regulate blood sugar.
But the problem isn't only that there are superior sources of nutrients; grains actually contain anti-nutrients that may damage your health. Ironically, since we're often told that whole grains are one of the best sources of fiber for our health, the high-fiber bran portion of grain – a key part that makes it a whole grain -- actually contains many of the anti-nutrients. Substances in grains, including gliadin and lectins, may increase intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut can cause digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal cramps, as well as cause or contribute to many others symptoms such as fatigue, skin rashes, joint pain, allergies,psychological symptoms, autism, and more.
If your diet could use more fiber, resist the urge to fortify it with whole grains. Instead, focus on eating more vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The following whole foods, for example, contain high levels of soluble and insoluble fiber.
Chia seeds, Berries, Vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, Root vegetables and tubers, including onions and sweet potatoes, Almonds, Psyllium seed husk, and flaxseeds, Green beans, Cauliflower, Beans,
Peas are all good sources of fiber.
A simple “rule” to remember is simply to get most of your fiber in the form of vegetables & fruits, not grains.
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