What do whole fruits, raw vegetables, whole-grain cereals, and brown rice have in common? They’re all excellent sources of dietary fiber, a type of carbohydrate you should consider adding to your diet if you haven’t already. Dietary fiber is the part of fruits, grains, and vegetables that your body can’t break down and digest.
Confused? Here's a quick explanation: While your body can digest the rest of your food and absorb it for nutrients, fiber remains relatively intact as it works its way through your stomach, intestines, and finally, colon. This sounds like a bad thing, but it isn’t! Here's more about dietary fiber and why you should include it in your diet.
Technically speaking, fiber is a carbohydrate. But there’s a twist. While most other carbohydrates break down into sugar molecules, fiber does not. As you digest your food, fiber adds mass and weight to your stool, making it easier to pass and preventing constipation. It does this by drawing water into the stool and allowing for it to pass through the intestines quickly. It’s a key ingredient in maintaining good gut health, and it helps your body regulate blood sugar. But that’s not all! There are other health benefits of fiber that help make it an essential part of a healthy diet. Here are a few different ways it can help:
While research is ongoing and there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to diet and nutrition, it’s safe to say that fiber has its fair share of benefits. It can help maintain a healthy weight by promoting your feelings of fullness and keeping your gut healthy, lowering cholesterol levels, and reducing your risk factors for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. So, what’s not to love?! Although you need to balance fiber intake with a healthy routine and good lifestyle choices, there are many benefits to adding fiber into your diet.
Fiber is classified into two different groups: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is a fiber that dissolves in water and turns into a gel. Insoluble fiber is—you guessed it—a fiber that doesn’t dissolve in water. Here’s a little more about each type:
Soluble fiber is made of plant gums and plant pectin. It is the fiber that helps control blood glucose levels and may reduce your risk of developing diabetes. It also nurtures the good bacteria that dwell in your gut, promoting healthier stool. By binding itself to cholesterol in the small intestine and lowering the amount of low-density lipoprotein (the source of bad cholesterol), it may also help lower cholesterol levels. The reason it’s usually brought up in conversations revolving around weight loss is that it can help you feel full for longer, preventing you from overeating. Some foods with soluble fiber include:
Insoluble fiber is made of plant hemicellulose and cellulose. It is also known to reduce your risk for diabetes. This type of fiber helps increase the movement of stool through your digestive tract by adding mass and attracting water to it. It’s also what helps people with digestive irregularity or constipation. Some foods with insoluble fiber include:
Fiber is the ultimate efficiency tool. It actually slows down the digestive process, giving your body more time to extract nutrients as you digest your food. Since it slows down your digestion, it can reduce blood sugar spikes after eating. Fiber also helps you feel fuller faster and stay feeling full for longer. This means you end up eating less and may even have an easier time curbing sugar cravings as fiber becomes part of your daily diet.
As fiber moves through your digestive tract, it plays a couple of roles. It can bind with compounds like cholesterol and sugars to block them from being absorbed. It also slows down your digestive process, which can lead to a slower release of digested sugar into your bloodstream, resulting in a more stable and lower blood sugar level.
According to the CDC, approximately 100 million people in the United States of America have diabetes or prediabetes, and one in three people have high blood pressure. Both conditions can worsen your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases as you age.
The good news is that new research suggests fiber-rich foods can help with some diabetes care. Conducted at the American College of Cardiology, the study shows that people with a high fiber diet may have a significantly lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Are you getting too little fiber? What about too much fiber? Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all, but there’s an average daily intake that you can consider. The Mayo Clinic recommends women consume 21 to 25 grams of fiber every day, and men consume 30 to 38 grams a day.
Everyone’s body and needs are different, though, and it is vital to understand your unique needs when changing your diet. Working with a registered dietitian is an excellent way to get the guidance you need to make changes.
Now that you understand the health benefits of a high-fiber diet, you may be asking what such a diet looks like and how you can add fiber to yours. Adding fiber to your diet isn’t difficult. It can be done in many ways, making it easy to transition into a healthier lifestyle.
The first thing to remember when changing your diet in any form is to take it slow. Don’t shock your body by completely changing up what it is used to. This can have adverse effects on your health and may even cause bloating, gas and cramping. Also, remember not to make any significant changes without monitoring what a healthy diet looks like for your individual needs and consulting with a professional (like a registered dietitian) first.
Before adding high-fiber foods into your existing diet, consider examining the amount of processed food you consume daily. Most processed foods are stripped of their fiber content unless it’s added in. If your diet contains a lot of processed foods or added sugars, you’re probably not consuming the right type or amount of fiber. It’s a good idea to start by reading the labels on your foods to find the fiber on the nutrient labels. You may be surprised to learn how much or how little is in your go-to foods!
Remember that some people don’t tolerate all high-fiber vegetables or grains as well as others. So it’s essential not to use a one-size-fits-all approach when you’re adding fiber into your diet. If your body handles these options well, they can be a healthy way to add micronutrients and fiber to your diet.
Also, consider including some non-starchy vegetables, like asparagus, baby corn, and bean sprouts. It’s a good idea to work with a registered dietitian to see what your body responds best to.
Are you curious about the foods you can add to your diet to increase fiber intake while optimizing your health? Wondering what types of fiber work best for your body? Fiber-rich foods are an essential inclusion in a healthy diet, but the health benefits of different foods will depend on your body’s individual responses to them. Using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is a good way to track and monitor how your body responds to high-fiber foods.
With programs like the CGM Program and the Nutrition Coaching Program from NutriSense, you can experiment with the help of a CGM sensor and advice from a registered dietitian. Using the data from the CGM, your dietitian can help you gain a better understanding of your personal calorie, macronutrient, and fiber needs.
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