You’ve probably heard talk about eating a high-fiber diet, but do you know what fiber is or what it does for the body?
Dietary fiber is much more than a chic trend or a fun fact to know about. It’s one of the most important elements involved in our digestion of food, and healthy levels of fiber act as a shield against certain kinds of conditions.
So just what is fiber, and how does it help your body? Here’s a basic look.
What is Fiber?
Dietary fiber refers to the elements of plant foods that your body is naturally unable to process like most other foods. Almost all other nutrients in the foods we eat break down during the digestive process and spread to where they’re needed in the body, but fiber passes through with very little change before leaving your body.
Fiber is in all sorts of food, even in some food we might consider “bad.” It also has several potential benefits for your digestive system.
Types of Fiber
There are two primary types of dietary fiber:
- • Soluble fiber: Dissolves in water into a gel, and helps lower cholesterol or glucose levels in the body
- •Insoluble fiber: Fiber that cannot dissolve in water. Helps move food through the digestive system, and helps keep stools solid
Many foods contain both kinds of fiber – it’s possible for them to exist at the same time within a single food type.
What Fiber Does For You
A diet with the right amounts and types of fiber can have specific benefits for both the digestive system and the entire body as a whole. A few of the key benefits include:
- • Bowel health: In many ways, fiber is what keeps your entire digestive system running normally. It helps keep stools at the right consistency, and prevents watery stools that can lead to constipation or diarrhea. It also can help prevent conditions in the colon.
- • Weight: Lots of fiber in a given food makes it seem more filling to the person eating it, which can be a big help to people struggling with weight.
- • Cholesterol: High-fiber foods can lower “bad” cholesterol levels, which benefit the entire body. It can also help with blood pressure issues for many people.
- • Blood sugar: Especially important for people with diabetes, fiber helps the body normalize the way it breaks down sugar.
High-Fiber Foods and Daily Recommendations
Most plant-based foods are naturally high in fiber, but those that are commonly eaten by people trying to add more fiber to their diet include:
- • Fruits and vegetables
- • Beans and other legumes
- • Seeds and nuts
- • Whole grain foods
The amount of fiber needed in your diet can vary from person to person, but in general, the Institute of Medicine recommends portion sizes based on gender and age.
- • Men below 50: 38 grams per day
- • Men above 50: 30 grams per day
- • Women below 50: 25 grams per day
- • Women above 50: 21 grams per day
While fiber is important, you can’t eat nothing but fiber and expect only good results. Everything in the body needs moderation, even the stuff that’s good for you. Try to balance your diet between soluble and insoluble fibers where you can, and use them as part of an overall healthy diet. They’ll help regulate your digestion and keep things moving correctly through your system.
Revere Health Orem Family Medicine is devoted to comprehensive healthcare for patients of all ages. Our commitment is to provide thorough and timely health care for the entire family throughout all stages of life.
- “Fiber and Digestion Problems.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/diarrhea-10/fiber
- “Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983?pg=1