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Health benefits of fiber

Have a fiber-packed breakfast of oatmeal, almonds and dried fruit for colon and heart health.

Have a fiber-packed breakfast of oatmeal, almonds and dried fruit for colon and heart health.

Fiber is a vital element in healthy eating, as most people know. If you have dietary restrictions or can't eat some of the most fiber rich foods, it's a good idea to take a fiber supplement. Here's what you need to know about fiber to make sure it's a prominent part of your diet to stay healthy:

What is fiber?
Fiber is any part of a plant food that you consume but your body is unable to digest. Rather than being broken down by your body, like proteins, carbohydrates and fats, fiber passes out of your body mostly intact. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibers do not dissolve in water. They help other materials move through the digestive system more easily, and are found in nuts, beans, wheat bran, whole wheat flour, potatoes, cauliflower and green beans, among other plant products.

In contrast, soluble fiber can be dissolved in water into a gel-like substance and is found in apples, beans, carrots, barley, peas, oats and citrus fruits. Our bodies need both types of fiber for good digestion, and some foods are especially great for fiber intake because they have both soluble and insoluble fiber, such as beans and oatmeal.

On average, men should consume 38 grams of fiber per day while women should consume 25 grams. However, according to Dr. Melina Jampolis, who was quoted in a recent CNN article, most Americans get less than half of the amount of fiber their bodies need. This is problematic because fiber has several important functions in the body, aside from promoting ease of digestion and eliminating constipation and bloating.

Why is fiber important?
Fiber does many beneficial things for the body, including:

  • Lowering cholesterol. Soluble fiber can help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which in turn can lower the blood's total cholesterol levels. This can help prevent coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis, in which cholesterol and arterial plaques play a major roll. Additionally, some research shows that soluble fiber might reduce blood pressure and inflammation in the body.
  • Possibly lowering blood sugar levels in diabetes patients. Soluble fiber slows sugar absorption while insoluble fiber might reduce one's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • Keeping the bowels healthy, which lowers one's risk of developing hemorrhoids and may prevent diseases of the colon.
  • Potentially contributing to weight loss. High-fiber foods take a long time to chew so they give the body time to assess whether you are hungry or not. Additionally, they help you feel full longer and have fewer calories in the same volume amount than other foods.