What is Fiber, and Why do I Need It?

What is Fiber, and Why do I Need It?

Fiber. You know you need it, but why? Turns out there's a lot more to this substance than you might think. Here's what you need to know about dietary fiber.

What is Fiber? 

"You are what you eat." Well, in the case of fiber, it's more like "you are what you don't digest." Fiber is a part of many foods. You do eat it, but your body doesn't digest it. Instead, it travels through your digestive system. As it travels it absorbs water and aids in eliminating waste. Though you don't digest it, fiber still plays a vital role in your health.

Soluble vs Insoluble Fiber

Dietary fiber is split into two main types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble dissolves in water. This means it changes form as it travels through your body. As it absorbs water it takes on a more gelatinous form. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, does not change its form as it makes its way through your digestive tract. Both forms of fiber have unique functions and benefits.

Insoluble fiber is a workhorse when it comes to moving food through your digestive system. It helps prevent constipation and keeps your system moving in a timely manner. Insoluble fiber also helps maintain pH in your intestines, which can help prevent the buildup of substances that can lead to colorectal cancer. You'll find plenty of insoluble fiber in vegetables, whole wheat products, nuts, and seeds. 

Soluble fiber helps slow down the time it takes for your stomach to empty. Not only does this keep you feeling full longer, it also helps regulate the way your body absorbs sugar. Soluble fiber can also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. You'll find it in oatmeal, beans, whole wheat bread, and many fruits and vegetables.

Generally speaking, most foods are predominately one type of fiber or the other. Some plants contain both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, but generally not in equal amounts. 

Health Impacts

Adequate fiber intake leads to a number of health benefits. By lowering your cholesterol levels, soluble fiber can help protect against heart disease. High fiber intake can help people with diabetes become less dependent on insulin. It's also an excellent aid in weight loss. Because fiber helps you feel fuller without adding additional calories, it can make it easier to stay within your dietary goals. Finally, high-fiber foods tend to have high levels of other nutrients as well, further promoting excellent health.

Women are recommended to eat 25 grams of fiber a day, while men should aim for 38 grams. Find fiber in healthy foods, or add a little more to your diet through a high quality greens powder. However you get it, fiber is sure to be a positive addition to your next meal.

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