Benefits of a Diet Rich in Fiber

If your idea of fiber brings to mind sad, bland bran flakes and pooping a lot, it’s time to rewrite the narrative. This essential nutrient is an integral part of plant foods and, when eaten in adequate amounts, helps protect against heart disease, diabetes and constipation, among other health conditions. It’s also associated with a longer life.

Unlike other carbohydrates, which break down into simple sugars during digestion, dietary fiber passes through your digestive system undigested. It has a host of beneficial properties that help prevent and treat health problems, including obesity, blood sugar regulation, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, constipation and hemorrhoids.

In addition, the insoluble fiber that is found mostly in beans and some grains — such as oats, barley and rice bran — promotes healthy cholesterol levels by binding with excess cholesterol, which then passes through your body without being absorbed. Getting more fiber in your diet can also help you control your weight by making you feel fuller faster, which may lead to eating less calories.

Studies have shown that people who eat the recommended amount of fiber per day are at lower risk for a variety of health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and colorectal cancer. A recent study from the University of New Zealand also found that those who eat fiber-rich foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables are more likely to live longer than those who do not.

The reason that a high-fiber diet is so good for your body is that it helps your digestive system work more efficiently. Because dietary fiber moves food through the digestive tract more quickly, it minimizes the time that potentially harmful chemicals (such as excess estrogen and unhealthy fats) can remain in your system. In addition, soluble fiber can create butyrate, which helps fight cancer and promotes normal colon function.

Although most Americans do not get enough dietary fiber, it’s easy to boost your intake. Start the day with a high-fiber breakfast cereal and add brown rice, bulgur wheat or unprocessed wheat bran to your lunch and dinner. Eat more fruit and veggies (five or more servings daily) as well as a variety of beans, legumes, peas, and lentils. When introducing more fiber into your diet, it is important to do so gradually as too much too soon can cause digestive distress, such as gas and bloating.

When reading the nutrition label, look for a food’s total fiber content as opposed to a specific number of grams of soluble or insoluble fiber. It’s also a good idea to choose whole grain foods over refined ones, as they contain more fiber.