If you’ve been paying attention to recent advertisements for ‘healthy’ food products such as cereal and nutrition bars, you will probably have noticed that more of them are highlighting the fact that they are high in fiber.
But what makes fiber such as a big deal, and why are more consumers looking for it in their food these days?
Let’s start with the basics: fiber is a substance found in plants. Also known as roughage, this carbohydrate source is not easily digested by the intestines.
There are two types of dietary fibers – soluble and insoluble. The first one dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance. This is broken down in the large intestines, thereby providing some calories (energy) for the body. Sources of soluble fiber include citrus fruits, peas, oats, beans, carrots, apples, psyllium, and barley.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, cannot be dissolved by water. It adds bulk to stool, and enables it to pass through the gastrointestinal tract easily. Good sources of insoluble fiber include cauliflower, green beans, nuts, wheat bran, and whole wheat flour, to name a few.
Despite the widespread availability of fiber-rich food, the fact of the matter is many people are not able to consume the recommended amount of 25-30 grams of fiber per day.
If you are guilty of committing such a sin, then the following health reasons might convince you to consume more fiber everyday:
1) Fiber Can Fiber Can Help You Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels
Maintaining normal blood sugar levels is essential for everyone, diabetic or not.
By consuming food high in soluble fiber, rapid spikes in blood sugar levels can be prevented, especially after meals. That’s because dietary fiber slows digestion, which then slows the absorption of carbohydrates and other nutrients in the body.
Apart from helping you control your blood sugar, a diet high in fiber can also help lower your risks of developing Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
This lifestyle-associated disorder is often caused by obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels. (FYI: A high-fiber intake can prevent the onset of these three contributing factors as well.)
2) Fiber Can Help Lower Your Cholesterol Levels
Maybe you love high-fat or high-cholesterol food. Unfortunately, this love for sinful fare can lead to elevations in your cholesterol levels.
However, if you eat a diet rich in soluble fiber, you can offset this. This is due to the fact that soluble fiber can block the absorption of fat and cholesterol. As a result, levels of bad (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in the body are reduced significantly.
It is very important to keep LDL levels down as it is the primary culprit behind the development of heart disease and other related conditions. High levels of LDL can lead to fat buildup in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis.
When blood flow in these fat-blocked arteries is impeded, heart attack can take place. As if that is not bad enough, atherosclerosis can also lead to stroke and peripheral arterial disease.
Eating a diet rich in fiber can help lower your cholesterol levels and help minimize your risk of heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, and more.
Apart from keeping LDL levels in check, fiber intake can also help lower blood pressure, C-reactive protein, and apolipoprotein levels, all of which are known contributory factors to the development of heart disease.
3) Fiber Improves Digestive Health
Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria are just some of the many gut organisms that can help improve your overall health status.
Luckily, fiber can help increase the population of these bacteria by acting like a prebiotic – a substance that fosters their growth and development.
With more good bacteria in the digestive system, gut barrier function is improved and growth of pathogenic bacteria (such as that of Clostridia) is suppressed.
4) Fiber Can Help Prevent Constipation and Hemorrhoids
Do you have a hard time (literally) moving your bowels on a daily basis? This might be due to your low fiber intake.
A diet rich in insoluble fiber (with wheat bran being the gold standard) can ease your bowel problems by providing bulk for your stool. With so, food and waste material are rapidly moved throughout the digestive system for easy excretion.
Since fiber facilitates elimination, the chances of developing hemorrhoids are greatly reduced as well. Hemorrhoids are usually caused by straining during bowel movements, which is often the case in constipated people consuming low fiber diets.
5) Fiber Lowers Your Risks of Developing Colorectal Cancer
The role of fiber in lowering the risk of developing colorectal cancer was first discovered by Burkitt in the 1970s.
While on a mission in Africa, he observed that Africans who ate high-fiber diets seemed to be immune from colorectal cancer. This served as an inspiration for many cancer studies. Sure enough, they have echoed Burkitt’s observation that a high-fiber diet can lower colorectal cancer risk.
Fiber’s colorectal miracle can be attributed to multiple factors. For one, fiber increases stool volume, which makes the process of elimination better and easier. Since fiber increases the speed of defecation, the exposure to carcinogen-laden stool in the intestines is shortened, if not prevented.
Additionally, fiber breakdown in the lower intestines yields butyrate, a substance that can prevent cancer growth in the colon and the rectum. Butyrate does this miracle of a feat through its anti-inflammatory effects, which prevents free radical damage and oxidative stress in the long run.
6) Fiber Also Reduces Your Chances of Developing Other Types of Cancer
Fiber is truly a lifesaver, especially in this day and age when cancer incidences are constantly on the rise.
For one, intake of fiber – especially wheat bran and whole grains – has been known to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Experts owe this to fiber’s low-fat content, as studies show that a high-fat diet magnifies one’s risk of developing breast cancer.
Additional research suggests that fiber effectively binds to excess estrogen, thereby eliminating it efficiently. This is highly important as increased amounts of estrogen in the body has been associated with breast cancer risk. Similarly, fiber’s interaction with hormones is also known to lower the incidence of prostate cancer.
Many studies also show that fiber intake can lower one’s chances of developing oral, esophageal, and throat cancer. In fact, one study has proven that a diet rich in vitamins and fiber was inversely related to the incidence of esophageal cancer.
7) Fiber Can Boost Your Immunity
If you find yourself suffering from the sniffles from time to time, this might be a sign that your immune system is down in the dumps. Fortunately, increasing fiber intake can help boost your immunity and defend you from infections and what not.
Fiber enhances your immunity through a number of mechanisms. It increases the production of short-chain fatty acids, substances that improve the cytotoxic capacities of neutrophils, macrophages, and T-helper cells. If these cells are weakened, then your immunity will be adversely affected.
Fiber also interacts with the immune system, directly stimulating it to fight up against bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
8) Fiber Helps Control Inflammation
Inflammatory disorders occur when the immune system targets cells and tissues, thereby resulting in swelling, redness, stiffness, and pain. Examples of such conditions are Rheumatoid Arthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Gout, and Scleroderma, to name a few.
If you are suffering from any of these illnesses, you will be glad to know that a high-fiber diet can help minimize (if not eliminate) the unpleasant symptoms. Fiber prevents inflammation by feeding beneficial gut bacteria that secrete anti-inflammatory substances.
Studies also show that those who eat high-fiber diets had lower levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker seen in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.
9) Fiber Can Help Control Your Appetite
Fiber is the key to preventing munchies. After all, foods high in fiber are low in calorie and take a longer time to eat. Prolonged chewing time promotes saliva and gastric acid production, which then distends the stomach. As such, fiber consumption makes you feel full easily, keeping you ‘satisfied’ for a longer period of time.
Fiber intake can also help control your appetite by blunting insulin release and response, which can lead to a more ‘satiated’ feeling.
10) Fiber Helps You Lose Weight
Aside from all its health benefits, fiber can be a powerful tool for weight loss. If you find it hard to lose weight or lower your body fat percentage, increasing your fiber intake can help you achieve a slimmer body.
In fact, studies show that for every 1-gram increase in fiber consumption per day for 20 months, body weight is decreased by 0.25 kilograms. Fiber makes this weight loss possible due to the fact that it is lower in fat and calorie content, both of which are essential factors in weight control.
Additionally, fiber makes you feel ‘fuller,’ preventing you from engaging in ‘fattening practices’ such as eating more (even if you are full) or snacking around.
11) Fiber Helps You Live a Longer, Healthier Life
Living a long, healthy life is the dream of many. According to research, fiber can help you achieve just that!
More than just protecting you from cancer and heart disease, research has shown that a diet rich in fiber can be linked to having a longer lifespan.
The study, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute, showed that people who ate high amounts of fiber everyday – 30 grams for men and 22 grams for women – were 22% less likely to die compared to those who consumed low amounts of fiber.
So if you want to live your life to the fullest, then eating a fiber-rich diet is the way to go!