What Is Fiber and Why Do You Need it?

If you keep hearing about “fiber” in your diet, you might wonder exactly what it is, where it comes from and why you need to make sure you get enough.

Dietary fiber is the parts of food you can’t digest, and which pass through your system. Also referred to as “roughage,” fiber includes skins, seeds, husks, kernels and shells. If these parts of the foods we eat just pass through us, then why not peel our potatoes before we mash, bake or deep-fry them? The process of fiber passing through your digestive system, specifically your colon, helps “clean out” your gut, taking with it some unhealthy things in your body – notably cholesterol. Think of dietary fiber as sort of a “pipe cleaner” for your intestines. Unfortunately, many Americans get only half the daily dietary fiber they need for good health. Here’s why and how you should add enough fiber to your diet.

Benefits of Fiber

  • Helps keep you regular
  • Improves blood cholesterol
  • May prevent colon cancer
  • May prevent heart disease
  • Helps prevent and manage diabetes
  • Helps improve gut function
  • Has no calories
  • Non-glycemic (no sugars absorb into your bloodstream)
  • Lowers the glycemic index of meals
  • Helps regulate blood sugar levels
  • Helps remove toxins from the body
  • Helps improve good gut bacteria

As you can see, dietary fiber is extremely important to many different aspects of your help.

Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber

There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, while insoluble fiber does not. Soluble fiber helps improve your cholesterol, while insoluble helps prevent constipation.

  • Insoluble fiber is contained in foods like wheat, corn, whole meal bread, brown rice, bran, whole grain cereals, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and peels of fruits.
  • Soluble fiber is found in high quantities in legumes, such as peas, beans and lentils and peanuts. You can also find it in oats, potatoes, barley, and other fruits and vegetables.

Good Sources of Fiber

Fiber is found in carbohydrates, not meats or dairy products. A high-fiber food has at least 5 grams per serving. Food with 2.5 to 4.9 grams per serving are considered good sources of fiber.

High-Fiber Foods

  • Dried Peas
  • Lentils
  • (Beans) pinto, navy, lima, black, garbanzo, baked, kidney
  • Tempeh
  • Barley

Other good sources of fiber include:

  • Sweet and baked potato (with skin)
  • Whole wheat English muffin
  • Cooked green peas
  • Pears
  • Raspberries
  • Oat bran
  • Almonds
  • Apples
  • Raisins
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Sauerkraut
  • Lentils
  • Whole grain breads

Watch the Sugar

If you try to get most of your fiber by eating fruit, you’ll be consuming more sugar (fructose) than if you get your fiber from beans, legumes and other non-sugary sources. If you’re going to eat sugar, fruit is a good source, helping you satisfy your sweet tooth without eating refined and artificial sweeteners. Just try to balance your fiber sources for maximum benefit.

Controversy

Some non-traditional health gurus not associated with a university, medical facility or government health agency claim that virtually all of benefits of dietary fiber are a myth, and that fiber actually increases health problems – specifically the ones mainstream health experts say fiber improve. These folks are definitely not in the mainstream. Talk to a registered dietitian to determine if you have any health problems that could be exacerbated by a lack of fiber or improved by adding more fiber.

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