A healthy, balanced diet contains a healthy amount of fiber. There are two main types: soluble fiber, which slows digestion so more nutrients can be absorbed from the food we eat, is in cereal grains such as oats or barley, fruits, and legumes like beans and peas. Insoluble fiber helps move foods through the digestive system to "keep us regular"; it's in whole wheat flour and bran, nuts, leafy greens, and other vegetables.
Getting enough of both types is important for a healthy digestive system, but the many benefits of fiber extend beyond the belly.
Fiber-rich foods digest more slowly than other carbohydrates. Simple carbs are absorbed quickly, which can cause a spike in blood sugar, then are burned just as quickly, often causing a blood sugar crash with more hunger and fatigue, and contributing to insulin resistance in people with diabetes.
Meals with plenty of fiber slow down the rate that sugar enters the bloodstream and help stabilize blood glucose levels.
Diets with a healthy amount of fiber can help protect the heart. High cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the bloodstream contribute to heart disease and the narrowing of arteries. Dietary fiber binds with these harmful fats in the digestive system to slow or prevent some from being absorbed, which helps to lower overall cholesterol and triglyceride amounts.
Fiber helps to sweep away buildup and bacteria from intestinal walls as it travels down the digestive tract. Studies have found that consuming plenty of fiber can significantly reduce the risk of developing colon cancer, especially distal colon cancer.
Fiber from fruit and whole-grain cereal has the greatest protective effect.
Studies have shown that diets with at least 30 grams of fiber daily are helpful for people with symptoms of metabolic syndrome, such as increased blood sugar, high blood pressure, and elevated bad cholesterol levels.
Higher fiber meals reduce these symptoms; they help people feel full longer, which can contribute to fat loss goals and help maintain a healthier weight.
People who eat diets with plenty of fiber have a different balance of microbes in the gut—a larger total population and more diversity. A gut microbiome with plenty of microbes that ferment and break down fiber seems to have a protective effect on gut health.
A healthy, diverse gut microbiome contributes to lower rates of diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Eating plenty of dietary fiber or taking a fiber supplement can help prevent constipation by keeping bowel movements regular, ensuring we pass stools a healthy amount. This may also be impacted by hydration. People consuming lots of fiber should make sure to also drink plenty of water to hydrate the fiber and keep it moving through the digestive tract for the most benefit.
People who do not eat enough fiber have a higher risk of developing painful problems with the digestive system, such as hemorrhoids or diverticular disease.
Fiber plus plenty of hydration helps reduce constipation, pressure, and inflammation in the intestines. Increased intestinal pressure can lead to the development or flare-up of pressure-sensitive digestive health problems.
Studies show that diets rich in fiber have a protective effect and reduce the odds of dying from a health-related cause. Fiber has been shown to improve symptoms from digestive, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases, but this protection may also extend to other causes, such as cancers.
Eating plenty of fiber is a significant part of a nutritious diet, which countless studies confirm can help people live longer, healthier lives.
Non-digestible carbohydrates called prebiotics, a form of fiber, can help increase the absorption of calcium in the lower intestines. Prebiotic fiber contributes to changes in the metabolism of calcium and other minerals and has been shown to improve bone health, mineral density, and skeletal strength.
Eating plenty of prebiotic fiber helps build a healthy skeleton during the growing years and also helps prevent and reduce bone density loss from osteoporosis later in life.
Chronic inflammation can cause a variety of diseases and make symptoms worse. Studies have shown that eating plenty of fiber, particularly fiber from whole cereal grains, reduces total inflammation. Dietary fiber may also benefit the immune system by helping immune cells in the intestines and the gut-associated lymphoid tissues to work better.
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