Fiber is a substance found in plants. Dietary fiber -- the kind you eat -- is found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. It is an important part of a healthy diet.
Dietary fiber is a complex carbohydrate and is the part of the plant material that cannot be digested and absorbed in the bloodstream. Soluble fiber may help with weight loss as it makes you feel full longer, and research has shown it also may help lower blood cholesterol. Good sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, oat bran, barley, dried beans and legumes, and citrus fruits. Insoluble fiber tends to speed up the passage of material through the digestive tract and reduce the risk of colon cancer and diverticular disease. Good sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, whole grain cereals, and fruit and vegetable skins.
Health Benefits of Fiber
The health benefits of fiber are well documented in reducing the risk of certain diseases. Fiber is linked to reduced risk of cancer, especially colon and breast cancer, and fiber may help lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol levels, which have an impact on the risk reduction of heart disease. Fiber also can help in the management of diabetes by reducing blood sugar. Researchers think that roughage increases the production of HDL ‘good' cholesterol, which flushes LDL ‘bad' cholesterol out of the arteries so it can't harden into plaque. Studies have also shown that daily fiber supplementation lowers blood pressure, slashes cholesterol, reduces inflammation, and prevents arteries from hardening.
Eating a higher-fiber diet, as part of an overall healthful lifestyle, may play a role in a healthful BMI ( body mass index). One study found that women who ate more whole grains and total fiber consistently gained less weight over 12 years than those who ate less fiber and whole grains. Another study found that women with low-fiber, high-fat diets were more likely to be overweight than those following high-fiber, low-fat diets. "Weight control advice for American women should place greater emphasis on consumption of fiber," notes one of the study's researchers.
Fiber may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Those who ate a diet high in refined carbohydrates and low in cereal fiber were more likely to increase their risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study. And a recent Finnish study showed that as whole grain and cereal fiber intake increased, the risk of type 2 diabetes seemed to decrease. But it may not just be all about the fiber in this case; high-fiber foods are also rich in important micronutrients. That's why it's better to concentrate on including whole plant foods in your diet than to take a fiber pill or supplement.
A high-fiber diet may reduce your risk of colon cancer. If populations with a low average fiber intake suddenly doubled their fiber by making wiser food choices, they could lower their risk of colon cancer by 40%, according to a study involving data collected from 10 European countries. A recent National Cancer Institute study also linked high fiber intakes to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. This was especially true for fiber from grains, cereals, and fruits.
There are two forms of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion. This slows digestion. Soluble fiber is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber has been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol, which can help prevent heart disease.
Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. It appears to speed the passage of foods through the stomach and intestines and adds bulk to the stool.
Interactions & Side Effects
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