Fiber – Why Do You Need This Miracle Nutrient?
When people discuss the benefits of fiber or consider adding more high fiber foods to their diet, they usually assume this is just to help them become more regular in the bathroom. Foods high in fiber can certainly increase your bowel movements and are a good choice for those suffering from constipation and other such digestive disorders, but there are many more benefits! Let’s check out some of them and then go over some suggestions for how to increase fiber in your diet safely and easily.
- Better bowel health
Fiber breaks down foods so that any waste from those foods can be eliminated more readily, but this is not the only thing that affects the health of your bowels and digestive tract. When fecal matter doesn’t soften properly in the digestive system, it can form small holes or pockets along the intestines; this condition is called diverticulitis. In turn, more fecal matter can settle into those pockets and you may be more prone to digestive infections and other such disorders. Softening the stools can mean avoiding this risk. Adding foods with fiber to your diet can also mean easier elimination, not just more frequent bowel movements, so you have less risk of hemorrhoids or of straining the bowels.
- Lowering cholesterol levels
It’s been found that foods high in fiber may bind to cholesterol in the digestive system and keep this cholesterol from being absorbed by the blood , . In turn, you have less risk of cholesterol clogging your arteries when you eat high fiber foods; this can mean better blood circulation and less risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Controlling blood sugar
Foods with fiber also help to slow the body’s absorption of glucose from other foods in the digestive system. This can keep blood sugar levels healthier, something to consider for diabetics and those with other sugar disorders . If you notice that your mood is also affected when you have sugar but aren’t ready to eliminate this from your diet, you might add more dietary fiber so your body can slowly absorb this sugar over time and your mood is not so affected.
- Feeling full
Fiber absorbs water as it’s eaten so it expands in the belly. You might notice a temporary bit of bloating when you eat a high fiber diet because of this expansion; however, not only will this go away, but this also means that your belly feels full! When you fill up on foods high in fiber, you may then eat less at every meal and be able to control your weight more easily. The body also takes longer to digest those foods, so you may feel full longer and be less tempted to reach for a snack between meals. When you need to lose a few pounds or just cut back on how much you eat every day, adding fiber foods to your diet can help control your appetite safely and naturally.
- Breaking down other foods
As said above, fiber helps to break down other foods in the digestive system, which is why elimination is often more frequent and easier for those who fill up on fiber foods. However, foods also need to break down properly for the body to be able to absorb their trace vitamins and minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients. If foods don’t break down properly in the digestive tract, these nutrients are lost as they are eliminated along with what the body considers waste. When you follow a fiber diet or add more fiber to your everyday eating, your body will be healthier because you will be getting more of those trace elements from all the other foods in your system!
- Low in calories
Fiber itself has very few calories per ounce, so foods that are rich in fiber are also less calorie-dense. You can then fill up on those foods and feel full without packing on the pounds or struggling with hunger pains and a growling stomach throughout the day!
How to get more fiber in your diet
First note that fiber is not found in animal products; this means meat and dairy. While foods like milk and cottage cheese may have their own benefits, and the protein in meat can make you feel full, you need some fruits and grains in your diet to benefit from this nutrient. Typically those have edible skins or any type of pulp of the fruit. As an example, the majority of fiber from an apple is in the skin, whereas the pulp of oranges provides the most fiber. So you may want to eat a whole apple, skin and all, and avoid orange juice with the pulp removed! Leafy greens of all sorts, as well as green vegetables such as beans and asparagus, are also high in fiber.
Fiber foods are also those with grains, but keep in mind that white flour and starchy grains have very little fiber content. White flour is made from a processing that removes much of the fiber from wheat and its other ingredients. Starchy foods like rice and lima beans are also very low in fiber content, while being a bit high in natural sugars. To follow a healthy diet, opt for breads, muffins, and other baked goods made with whole grains including whole wheat and flaxseed.
You can also add more fiber to your diet by adding bran flakes, available at most supermarkets or health food stores, to foods like juices and protein shakes, where the flavor of the food will disguise the tasteless bran. You might also sprinkle some bran, wheat germ, or flaxseed over yogurt or your morning cereal. Add these to any foods you cook with a batter, such as pancakes or waffles; the added fiber might thicken the batter a bit, so add just a bit of extra oil to compensate.