Fiber: What It Is, What It Does, and How it Can Launch You Toward Health
By Shoshana Kosman, RD/LD
You have probably heard that fiber is good for you, but you may not know what exactly fiber is and how it benefits your body. Without understanding where fiber comes from or what nutritious properties it has, it may be hard to develop the motivation to incorporate it into your diet. After reading this, hopefully you will have a better understanding of fiber and be motivated to make this key nutrient a part of your regular meals.
Fiber, also known as roughage, is the part of plant-based foods that cannot be broken down. Because it passes through the body undigested, fiber helps to keep the digestive system clean and healthy. Fiber offers a wide variety of benefits, including:
- Improving digestive health: Fiber increases the bulk of your stool, making it easier to pass through your body and decreasing the risk of constipation.
- Maintaining a healthy heart: Fiber can lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and decrease inflammation.
- Regulating blood sugar levels: Fiber slows down the body’s breakdown of carbohydrates and absorption of sugar, which helps to regulate blood sugar and prevents the risk of diabetes.
- Weight management: Fiber increases satiety, which means that it helps you feel and remain full, so you will be less likely to eat as much.
- Skin health: Fiber helps to flush out of the body toxins that contribute to acne and skin rashes.
- Other health benefits: Fiber has been associated with a decrease in stroke, diverticulitis (inflammation of the intestines), hemorrhoids, gallstones and kidney stones.
Fortunately, fiber can be found in a diverse range of food products, so it’s not too hard to find sources of fiber that you can add to your diet. The general rule of thumb is that the more unprocessed and natural the food product is, the higher the amount of fiber it has. Some key sources of fiber include:
- Beans and legumes
- Whole-grain food products
- Fiber-infused cereals like Fiber One, Bran Flakes and Shredded Wheat
If you are not in the habit of eating these foods, adding them into your diet may seem daunting. By taking the following actions you can increasing your fiber intake and reap the many health benefits of this powerful source of nutrition:
- Replace refined grains (like white rice, white bread, and pasta) with whole grains (like brown rice, whole grain bread, and whole wheat pasta).
- Add fruit to your meals whenever possible. This might mean eating an orange along with some source of protein for breakfast, enjoying a pear during lunch or adding berries to your yogurt during a snack break.
- Replace dessert with fruit. For example, instead of eating a cup of strawberry ice cream, eat a cup of strawberries!
- When you do eat fruit, make every effort to eat the edible peel. Fruits with edible peels include apples, grapes, pears, peaches, nectarines, berries, and kiwis.
- Add flaxseed to your cereal or yogurt.
- Add nuts or beans to your salad or whole grain pasta.
On average, a person should try to eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day.
It may be hard to gauge in terms of actual food, but a good place to start is the Nutrition Facts Label of each food product you consume. This label has a section that indicates the amount of dietary fiber per serving. Over time, you will develop a good instinct for how much fiber to eat a day. Soon enough you will start to notice when you haven’t met your ideal fiber intake for the day – and your body will crave the nutritious, fiber-dense foods that will fulfill this need!