What Does Fiber Do Besides Keep me “Regular?”

In my last blog I talked about the importance of eating whole grains. I can’t leave this subject without talking about another reason you should eat more whole grains. Whole grains are high in fiber. Other high fiber foods are vegetables, fruits and beans.
So what’s all the hoopla about fiber? All the newest research out there continues to promote the health benefits of eating a lot of fiber. But why?
Because foods that break down easily and as a result go through our digestive systems quickly, like refined starches and sugars, promote overeating and out of control blood sugar spikes. But foods that are high in fiber, put up a bit of a fight in our digestive systems. They resist breakdown and absorption in our small intestine, so they allow foods to enter our system slowly.
Long and short of it, a higher intake of fiber is related to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and weight gain. This year alone, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the consumption of dietary fiber was “convincingly “associated with lower risk of pancreatic cancer, heart disease-related death and death from any cause.
But not all fiber is created equal.
Our FDA now allows synthetic fiber, or polydextrose, to be included in packaged foods to boost the food’s fiber content and cut down on the levels of sugar, fat and calories. Synthetic fibers are often found in nutrition bars and drinks, some breakfast cereals and other processed foods. Studies have collected some evidence that polydextrose might lead to a lower blood-sugar spike and reduced appetite. However, it does not contain minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals found in natural sources of fiber, so they aren’t as good for you. And don’t we all want to feel better, have more energy and a glowing complexion and healthy hair?
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and tends to become gel-like during digestion. Soluble fiber is associated with lower blood cholesterol and better control of blood sugar levels.
Insoluble fibers, on the other hand, do not dissolve in water, so they tend to pass through the digestive system intact, which is a good thing. Insoluble fibers act like little scrubbing bubbles on the inside of your colon removing old and damaged cells thus reducing the risk for polyps and colon cancer. And it slows digestion and helps support the health of our gut and microbiome.
So how much fiber should you be getting each day? For men it’s at least 38 grams of fiber each day and for women a minimum of 25 grams. Twenty-five is the minimum because if you get your fiber from whole grains and other whole foods, there is no limit.
The best whole foods to up your fiber intake are those that include both soluble and insoluble fiber. Whole foods mean foods that come out of the ground and not processed. Sorry, that does not mean Fiber One bars, Metamucil or any processed food or product fortified with fiber.
So, eat lots of vegetables, fruits and seeds, whole grains, and legumes, which include beans and peanuts. As one good doctor says, “we should all eat more beans.” But the real secret is eating a variety of all these food groups, That way you are getting both soluble and insoluble fiber resulting in you looking and feeling better. And who doesn’t want that as you go through life?

Lisa Burbage

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