The Health Benefits of Fiber
Updated: Aug 9, 2019
Fiber is a kind of carbohydrate that the body can't digest. Although most carbohydrates are broken down into sugars, fiber can't be broken down into sugar molecules so that it passes through the body undigested, but it does a lot of work on it's way through!
Fiber helps improve digestion by increasing stool bulk and promoting regularity, helping to prevent constipation and diverticulitis. Some studies show that increasing your fiber consumption can decrease your risk of colon cancer.
Some types of fiber can also help to lower cholesterol levels which can help to protect you from heart disease.
Diets low in fiber and high in food that can cause sudden increases in blood sugar may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. People with diabetes who consume a lot of fiber tend to need less insulin than those whose fiber intake is low. Fiber helps to slow the absorption of sugar, helping to prevent spikes after meals and also increases insulin sensitivity.
A high fiber intake can significantly contribute toward body weight control. Fiber produces a feeling of fullness without adding calories, which can help treat and prevent being overweight.
A large scale study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed findings that higher fiber intake reduces breast cancer risk, suggesting women who eat more high fiber foods during adolescence and young adulthood may have significantly lower breast cancer risk than those who eat less dietary fiber when young.
A recent study suggests that fiber can play a role in preventing food allergies because of it's interaction with the bacteria in the gut. Fiber promotes the growth of a type of bacteria called Clostridia, which breaks down fiber and are some of the biggest producers of byproducts called short-chain fatty acids. In a 2011 study in the journal Nature, researchers found that these short-chain fatty acids normally prevent gut cells from becoming too permeable. A leaky gut allows food particles, bacteria or other problematic compounds to enter the bloodstream, causing havoc with the immune system. This may also explain why fiber can help those with asthma. Unwanted particles escaping the gut and entering the bloodstream can cause an autoimmune response like asthmatic inflammation. A 2013 animal study found that mice eating a high fiber diet were less likely to experience asthmatic inflammation than mice on a low or average fiber diet.
There are 2 kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and can help lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps to move food through the digestive system, promoting regularity and preventing constipation. It's important to make sure you eat foods that contains both kinds of fiber, ideally consuming between 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day.
The best sources of fiber are whole grain foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and nuts. Here are some tips for increasing your fiber intake:
* Eat whole fruits and vegetables instead of drinking juice.
* Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with brown rice and whole grain products.
* Snack on raw vegetables instead of chips, crackers, or chocolate bars.
* Substitute beans or legumes for meat two to three times per week.
* Eat fruits and vegetables with the skin on, as they contain plenty of fiber.
* Replace instant oatmeal with slow cooking oats or steel cut oats.
For more information on high fiber foods, check out this link:
I love lemon cranberry muffins, but they are generally pasty white flour with few cranberries and less nutritional value, so I came up with a healthy, high fiber recipe that's yummy:
Healthy Lemon Cranberry Muffins
1 1/2 cups rolled oats/large flake oats
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup oat bran
1 cup ground flax seed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (about a pinch)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
juice and zest of 2 lemons (make sure to wash your lemons first!)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup grape seed oil
1 1/2 cups cranberries
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Soak oats in buttermilk for about an hour then add the lemon juice, zest and baking soda, stir to combine. Add eggs, oil and vanilla, mix well. In a separate bowl, mix flour, bran, flax seed, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar until well blended. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until moistened. Fold in cranberries until incorporated. Spoon batter into greased muffin cups (or lined with paper cups) and bake for approximately 25 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool and enjoy!