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Dietary Fiber: Benefits of Adding Fiber to the Diet

In a Harvard study conducted on 40,000 male health professionals, researchers discovered that a high intake of dietary fiber reduced the risk of coronary heart disease by 40 percent compared to a low fiber intake.

Many of us have heard about the benefits of fiber and the importance of adding it to our diet. How many of us are actually practicing this? Incorporating enough fiber into our daily intake is extremely important and it keeps us healthy.

What is dietary fiber? Dietary fiber is made up of the parts of food that we cannot digest. Fiber cannot pass through our blood stream and, since it cannot be converted to energy, it is expelled from our bodies. Increasing the amount of dietary fiber in our diet contributes to a healthy bowel function. When we consume a high amount of dietary fiber, it acts as an internal broom, sweeping out the intestinal tract, and making bowel movements easier.

A high fiber diet helps prevent certain types of chronic disease, like constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticulosis. If you’re suffering from diabetes, consuming high fiber foods can help you manage your condition by lowering your blood sugar. Diets low in fiber have been linked to certain types of cancers.

Types of Fiber: Soluble and Insoluble

There are two types of fiber: Soluble and insoluble. Many foods that contain fiber are actually a mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber.

Benefits of Soluble Fiber

Soluble fiber is believed to be helpful in lowering blood cholesterol. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and slows down digestion in the stomach and intestines. Increasing the amount of soluble fiber you consume can lower the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood. Why? Soluble fiber binds to bile acids, which are made of cholesterol, as it passes through your gastrointestinal tract. Since soluble fiber carries them through the intestines, it limits the amount of cholesterol that the body absorbs.

Soluble fiber is believed to be the only food component that will lower your blood cholesterol. How much it is lowered will depend on how much you consume on a daily basis, along with a variety of other factors. Consuming large amounts of soluble fiber has an added benefit for those suffering from diabetes; soluble fiber slows down the absorption of glucose by the small intestines.

You can find soluble fiber in a variety of forms, such as pectin. Pectin can be found in skins, rinds, and cores of numerous fruits. Under-ripe fruit contain more pectin than ripe fruit.

Sources of Soluble Fiber
  • Barley

  • Brown rice

  • Concord grapes

  • Carrots

  • Currants

  • Dried beans

  • Figs

  • French bread

  • Fresh peas

  • Grapefruit

  • Gooseberries

  • Oranges

  • Peaches

  • Pasta

  • Prunes

  • Psyllium husks

  • Raisins

  • Red Currants

  • Rice

  • Apples
Benefits of Insoluble Fiber

Foods that contain a large amount of insoluble fiber are usually referred to as “roughage”. Why? Insoluble fiber is indigestible. The added bulk increases the volume of our bowel movements, stimulating bowel contractions. High fiber diets that are low in fat can help control your weight. Why? Insoluble fiber absorbs water, which can reduce your appetite by making you feel full a lot faster; while soluble fiber helps prevent sluggish bowel movements, which can decrease the amount of fat absorbed in the digestive track.

You can find insoluble fiber in cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Cellulose helps cleanse the digestive tract. Hemicellulose (also a soluble fiber) helps move the waste through the body by absorbing water in the intestinal tract. Lignin is the least digestible of fibers. It’s an effective antioxidant.

Sources of Insoluble Fiber
  • Brazil nuts

  • Flax seeds

  • Whole-grain breads and cereals

  • Fruits and vegetables with skins

  • Peanuts

  • Popcorn

  • Brown rice

  • Wheat bran
How Much Fiber Do We Need?

Your fiber intake is determined by your age and gender. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children’s daily fiber intake be the same amount in grams as their age plus 5 grams. For example, if your child is five years old, their daily fiber intake would be ten grams of fiber. Women that are between 19 and 50 should consume about 25 grams of fiber daily. Men that are between 19 and 50 should consume about 30 grams of fiber daily. The average American consumes less than half the recommended amount per day.

It’s important to remember that, as you increase the amount of fiber in your diet, you must also increase your water intake. Failure to do so can lead to hard stools or constipation. Although uncommon, if fiber intake is in excess of 60 - 70 grams it has the potential to cause harm...

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