The Surprising Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber
One of the simplest ways to improve your overall health is to include more fiber in your diet. Eating more dietary fiber means much more than relieving the occasional constipation. It’s also good for your heart and gastrointestinal (GI) health.
There are two kinds of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble.1
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and gastrointestinal fluids, making a gelatinous substance that slows digestion. In the large intestine, this helps keep healthy bacteria thriving. Examples of soluble fiber include:
- Citrus fruits
Insoluble fiber is unchanged by water and remains practically undigested as it travels through your digestive system. It helps to move digested material along your gastrointestinal tract.2 Insoluble fiber can be found in foods like:
- Wheat bran
- Whole grains
- Brown rice
Heart health benefits of fiber
The soluble fiber found in oatmeal can have a positive impact on your cardiovascular health because of its ability to soak up excess cholesterol and carry it out of your body.3 This not only helps lower your cholesterol, it slows digestion which regulates blood sugar levels and reduces the amount of fat you absorb from food. Less fat means lower cholesterol, healthier arteries, and a trimmer waistline. All of which are good for your heart.
Insoluble fiber like bran passes through your body undigested and contains no extra calories. Adding more insoluble fiber to your diet, therefore, can help you maintain a healthy weight, and that’s beneficial for your heart.
Digestive health benefits of fiber
As it soaks up water along the digestive tract and turns into a gel, soluble fiber acts as a bulking agent that contributes to a healthy bowel. In addition, soluble fiber can support the good bacteria found in your colon that help fight inflammation and disease.
In the digestive tract, insoluble fiber helps clear out toxins and speeds up waste removal. Insoluble fiber also aids digestion and helps to keep your GI tract healthy and free from disease.
Eating a healthy balance of foods high in soluble and insoluble fiber is good for your heart and digestive health for so many reasons. Helping to lower cholesterol, creating bulk in the diet, and regulating blood sugar can all contribute to a healthy weight and the vitality of your digestive tract and heart.
How much fiber should I eat a day?
Most Americans only eat about 14 grams of fiber a day, well below what is recommended.4 Depending on your age and gender, you should aim for 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day.5
Recommended daily amounts of fiber by age and gender5
- Aged 19-30 years: 28 grams of fiber
- Aged 31-50 years: 25.2 grams of fiber
- Aged 51 years and older: 22.4 grams of fiber
- Aged 19-30 years: 33.6 grams of fiber
- Aged 31-50 years: 30.8 grams of fiber
- Aged 51 years and older: 28 grams of fiber
In order to reach your daily nutritional goals, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating 7-9 servings of foods containing fiber a day.5 This breaks down into 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables, and 3-5 servings of whole grains and cereals.
Be careful not to add too much fiber to your diet all at once. Initially, the extra bulk could cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Gradually increase your intake of fiber over the course of a few weeks until you reach your nutritional daily goal.
The good news is, most foods high in fiber are healthy and wholesome. With so many health benefits, fiber is the likely the best thing you can eat for your heart and digestive health.
- Blog Contributor