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Benefits of a High Fiber Diet

Written by Meghan Connelly, MD.

Fiber is something we’ve all heard of, been told we should eat more of, and has been touted as nutritionally beneficial. But, what is it exactly? Why do you need it? What are the benefits of a high-fiber diet?

Below you’ll find a few answers to these questions and we’ll try to elucidate some of the benefits to ensuring you get enough fiber in your daily diet.

Fiber: What Is It And How Do I Get It?

Fiber is a substance primarily found in plant walls and comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. The first, as its name would suggest, dissolves in water and can help lower both blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  Insoluble fiber helps absorb water and can aid in moving food through the digestive tract, lessening uncomfortable conditions such as constipation and keeping your stool frequency more regular. This is important for your digestive health.1,2 Fiber sources can vary in their amount of soluble and insoluble fiber, but both types have health and nutritional benefits. While fiber does not really contribute to energy intake, it is an important component in the diet, both for promoting health and satiety.

How much do I need?

The Institutes of Medicine has released guidelines on the amount of fiber you should be consuming each day. For those under 50 years old, women should consume 25 grams each day and men should be sure to take in 38 grams per day.3  Another way to calculate your fiber needs is to be sure you get 14 grams of dietary fiber, each day, for every 1,000 calories consumed.

Men should consume 38 g of fiber per day and women should consume 25 g of fiber per day.

How does it work?

Fiber is a molecule that is very difficult for your body to break down, therefore it adds bulk to the food in your stomach and intestines by absorbing water, consequently contributing to a sense of fullness. By helping you to feel fuller, fiber can help you in your efforts control the amount of food and calories you consume.

Additionally, fiber decreases the rate at which glucose (sugar) is absorbed in the small intestine and, consequently, can help control your blood sugar levels and limit high blood sugar spikes. If your blood glucose levels are maintained at more of a “steady state” you’re also less likely to find yourself craving that 3 pm candy bar, and, once again, this can help you with your weight loss goals and controlling your caloric intake.

Benefits

1.  Lowers blood sugar and cholesterol.  This reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease.4 

2.  Fiber aids in stool-regularity and helps decrease constipation.  This is important for your digestive health

3.  It takes longer to chew fiber which slows down your eating.  This helps you feel fuller sooner, which reduces the total amount of calories you consume and aids in efforts at portion control.

4.  It may reduce the reduce the risk of colon cancer.  Populations and cultures with low fiber and high fat diets showed an increase in the incidence of colon cancer, however, there has been quite a bit of follow-up research and this association has come into question, so the verdict is still out on this one.5

5.  Fiber may help lactic acid-fermenting bacteria thrive in your colon. And, this may help your body to clear “carcinogens” or cancer-promoting molecules from your lower digestive tract.6

So, Let’s Get To the Crux of It…What Foods are High in Fiber?

As above, fiber comes from plant walls. So, foods such as whole grains, many vegetables and legumes, and nuts are typically high in fiber. Additional foods to help you achieve optimal fiber intake include foods such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole wheat bread in your diet. Ideally, fibers should be consumed as part of the diet rather than as supplements if possible, in order to ensure that all of those nutrients and antioxidants also typically found in high-fiber foods are consumed along with the fiber.  

Common Foods Containing Fiber

  • Oatmeal
  • Oat bran
  • Whole grain bread
  • Nuts such as almonds, pistachios, pecans and sunflower seeds
  • Beans (such as kidney beans, chick peas, lentils, etc.)
  • Vegetables such as cooked artichokes, carrots, broccoli
  • Fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, apples, bananas, pears, and figs
  • Popcorn
  • Brown Rice
  • Barley

Be sure to check label as fiber content varies with different brands.

The USDA makes detailed information about how much fiber is available in different food for free - you can download by clicking here.

TIPS for a high fiber diet

1. Substitute whole wheat or whole grain bread for white bread

2. Consider starting your morning off with oatmeal, whole grain toast, or another high fiber food.

3. Substitute brown rice for white rice at restaurants...just ask! Most restaurants will do this.

4. Choose vegetable options such as beans or lentils instead of french fries or potatoes.

Just taking a few small steps can make a big difference in increasing the amount of fiber you consume and leaving you with some great health benefits!

References

1Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Dietary fiber offers many health benefits. Here's how to include more in your diet.  Mayo Clinic website.
2 Seki T, Nagase R, Torimisu M, et al.  Insoluble fiber is a major constituent responsible for lowering the post-prandial blood glucose concentration in the pre-germinated brown rice.  Biol Pharm Bull, August 2005, 28 (8): pages 1539-41.
3Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids
Released: September 5, 2002.  2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
4
Slavin JL.  Position of the American Dietetic Association: health implications of dietary fiber. Journal of the American Dietetic Association.  Feb 2009, 109(2), page 350.
5Reddy, BS.  Dietary fibre and colon cancer: epidemiologic and experimental evidence. Can Med Assoc J.  November 1980, 8; 123(9), pages 850–856.
6 Hiramaya K, Rafter, J.  The role of lactic acid bacteria in colon cancer prevention:  mechanisitic considerations. Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek.  July-November 1999, 76(1-4), pages 391-4.

Meghan Connelly, MD
Meghan Connelly, MD

Meghan Connelly grew up in Ohio.  She attended Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology and minoring in both Chemistry and American Political Science. Afterwards, she attended medical school at the University of Southern California. She currently lives in Washington DC and is completing dua.. Read more

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