Healthy Lifestyle

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Why do we need fiber?

Many food products boast added fiber on their packaging. Breads, cookies, beverages, and so much more contain extra fiber in response to the public's growing desire to consume foods with high levels of dietary fiber, which medical professionals claim is an essential element to a healthy diet. Despite that publicity, many consumers remain in the dark about the role fiber plays in the body.

About fiber

Many people are aware of the importance of including fiber in the diet, but few people understand the importance of dietary fiber. Fiber is an essentially indigestible substance that is found mainly in the outer layers of plants. Fiber will pass through the human digestive system virtually unchanged from when it was consumed and without being broken down into nutrients. Fiber is classified into two types: insoluble fiber, which will not dissolve in water, and soluble fiber, which can be dissolved. Insoluble fiber is typically found in whole grain products, dark leafy vegetables, green beans, wheat bran, corn bran, seeds, nuts, and skins of fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber comes from foods like oats, nuts, fruits, and dried beans.

Fiber and digestion

Fiber is essential to digestion. The Harvard School of Medical Health advises people should get between 20 to 30 grams of fiber each day, though many people do not consume that much fiber. Fiber adds bulk in the digestive system, which helps soften stool and flush out the intestines. It assists in making bowel movements more frequent, preventing constipation. A diet high in fiber helps reduce the risk for hemorrhoids and diverticular disease.

Fiber and weight loss

While fiber is often associated with improving regularity, that is not its only role. Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, that can be slowly digested will prolong the digestive process, helping to keep the stomach fuller longer. Feeling full can help a person eat healthy portions. Fiber-rich foods are also less calorie-dense. This means you can eat more and feel fuller without consuming tons of calories. Increasing fiber consumption may help men and women looking to lose weight.

Fiber and blood sugar

The slow absorption of carbohydrates also regulates the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. This can prevent sugar spikes that may be dangerous to those with diabetes. It also may be able to help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in May 2000.

Fiber and cholesterol

Soluble fiber has been shown to help lower blood cholesterol concentrations by decreasing the absorption of cholesterol and bile acids in the small intestines. When less bile acid is absorbed, the body must use stored cholesterol to make more, lowering blood cholesterol as a result. The American Heart Association reports greater reductions in low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol among people who consume diets high in soluble fiber compared to diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol alone.

How to increase fiber consumption

While many products include added fiber, here are some of the best ways to increase the number of grams of fiber consumed on a daily basis.

* Eat more bran, as bran has the highest fiber content of any food at about 25 to 45 percent.

* Consume whole fruit instead of juice. Whole fruits have more fiber in them and fewer calories than juices. Eating fruit can help you to feel fuller longer.

* Pass up on refined flours. Opt for whole grains whenever eating bread, cereal and baked goods. Try to aim for grains that have at least three grams of fiber per serving.

* Increase your consumption of beans. Beans are relatively inexpensive, filling and tasty. Plus, they pack a great deal of fiber, protein and other important nutrients.

* Take a fiber supplement if you feel you are not getting enough fiber in your daily diet. Gummy fiber chews can be tasty ways to get fiber.

* Opt for fresh fruit and vegetables for snacks over processed foods.