Fiber is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet, but most Americans don't get enough fiber in their diets. Is your family getting the fiber they need?
In order to properly incorporate fiber into your diet, you must first understand what it is. At its simplest, dietary fiber is the bit of plant matter that the body cannot absorb or digest. There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber, which can be found in many foods such as vegetables, nuts and wheat flour, aids in digestion by moving materials through the digestive tract (particularly beneficial to those who suffer from irregular bowel movements or constipation). Soluble fiber is dissolvable and can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. It can be found in foods such as beans, oats and citrus fruits.
The Power of Fiber
Fiber benefits your body by:
- Promoting stable bowel movements. A diet rich in fiber decreases the likelihood of constipation by adding weight and size to your stool. This increased weight is in large part due to water absorption, which makes stool easier to pass. High-fiber diets also lessen a person's risk of developing hemorrhoids or other bowel conditions and can provide relief for those suffering from irritable bowel disease.
- Lowering blood cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber sources, such as beans and oats, are suspected to help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering "bad" cholesterol. In addition, fiber-rich foods have some heart-healthy benefits, as they have been known to reduce blood pressure and inflammation within the body.
- Stabilizing blood sugar levels. Soluble fiber slows the absorption of sugar in the body, which for people with diabetes can help improve and control blood sugar levels.
- Promoting weight loss. Adding high-fiber foods to a meal can aid in weight loss by helping the body feel full faster and for a longer period of time than other foods that digest or are absorbed into the body quickly. In addition, high-fiber foods are typically low in calories.
Get Your Fiber Fix
Many people believe that fiber supplements can replace healthy eating habits, but the healthiest way to get the fiber you need is through five servings of fruits or vegetables per day and two servings of whole grains.
Good sources of fiber include:
- Brown rice
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole-grain breakfast cereals
- Whole-grain pasta
- Whole-wheat breads
Sources: msnbc.msn.com, mayoclinic.com, nutritionmd.org