Submitted By: Amy Sercel
Edited By: Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD
Fiber! It’s been the focus of a lot of nutrition news stories this year, with articles suggesting that eating more fiber can help you sleep better and breathe better. The Washington Post even called it “the world’s least sexy weight loss tool.” You see it advertised on cereal boxes, granola bars, and protein shakes, but have you ever wondered what fiber really is?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that you cannot digest; it can be soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber mixes with water and slows digestion. Insoluble fiber helps to bulk the stool and keep your intestinal muscles strong. Both types are found in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
Aside from keeping your digestive system healthy and regular, the most widely known benefit of fiber seem to be its effects on heart health. Eating fiber can prevent you from absorbing the cholesterol in your food, therefore helping to lower your blood cholesterol levels. One study found that increasing fiber intake by just 7 grams per day was associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating more fiber has also been shown to help your cells respond better to insulin. Studies have also found that people with higher fiber intakes have fewer symptoms of depression, suggesting that eating fiber could have a mood-boosting effect. Finally, foods that are rich in fiber tend to keep you full for longer, since fiber takes longer to digest than other nutrients. This is especially helpful if you want to lose weight!
With all of these benefits, it seems like fiber should be everyone’s best friend! Unfortunately, the majority of adults are not getting the recommended 25-35 grams per day. If you’d like to eat more fiber, be careful not to increase your intake too quickly, as your digestive system will need time to adapt to the change. It’s also a good idea to drink more water at the same time. One easy strategy is to choose whole grains (like brown rice or whole wheat) instead of refined grains. Eating a few more servings of fruits and vegetables can also help. With a few small steps, you’ll soon be reaping all of the benefits of fiber!