When it comes to dietary fiber, most of us consume far too little. We all strive to eat better and be healthier, but one of the ways in which almost all of us fail is with fiber.
What’s worse, the fiber shortcomings of the American diet are hardly a blip on the radar. It’s simply not a trending topic, although it really should be.
Everyone needs their daily dose of fiber, and on some levels, we all know this. But in spite of years of public education on fiber and decades of research showing the health benefits of eating proper amounts of fiber, we’re still missing the mark.
Think you’re good on fiber? Think again.
If you think you’ve got the fiber thing conquered, there’s a good chance you’re mistaken. In fact, many people who actively pursue great quantities of fiber in their diets are surprised to learn they’re not getting enough.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), we’re lacking in fiber as a nation. Our diets aren’t merely deficient in fiber…we’re “greatly” deficient:
Most Americans greatly underconsume dietary fiber, and usual intake averages only 15 g per day.
-USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans
It’s too bad, too. Fiber gives so many health benefits, and of course it plays a major role in keeping our bodies functioning properly. Without fiber, you’re in for a lot of gastro-intestinal misery, and eventually disease if you go too long without enough fiber in your diet.
8 Health Benefits Of Fiber
To get you started on increasing the fiber in you diet, here are 8 great health benefits of consuming fiber. By no means should you consider this the full list, however. There just isn’t enough room to include every benefit! These are the most important health benefits.
1. Fiber reduces your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.
Lowering your bad cholesterol, as you probably know, is a key factor in warding off cardiovascular disease.
2. Fiber lowers your blood glucose levels.
When the food you eat contains high amounts of fiber, that translates into an overall lower glycemic load. That, in turn, can lower your risk of contracting type 2 Diabetes.
A huge study of almost 100,000 women performed over 20 years ago linked low-fiber diets with increased risk of type 2 Diabetes. We’ve known this for two decades, yet we still don’t get enough fiber in our diets!
3. Fiber helps with constipation.
When it comes to the GI tract, constipation is the number one complaint in the U.S. Little do all these unhappy people know that their problems might very well be solved by fiber! Fiber keeps you regular and softens up your stool.
4. Fiber may decrease your risk of diverticular disease.
Diverticulosis and two other forms of diverticualar disease are digestive disorders involving your colon. When small pockets form in the colon’s lining, increased pressure can cause extruded areas, and they can become infected.
A high-fiber diet is always the prescription for patients who want to avoid worsening their disease, and for prevention as well.
5. Fiber may help prevent hemorrhoids.
While we’re on the subject of the digestive tract, we may as well cover hemorrhoids. Eating a high fiber diet encourages looser “waste”, which in turn means you won’t be straining during a bowel movement. ‘Nuff said!
6. Fiber helps you control your appetite.
When food is high in fiber, it’s very often low in fat, too. Fiber also makes you feel full. Not only that, but high-fiber foods take longer to chew, thereby slowing down your food consumption. Remember, it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to catch up to your appetite!
7. Fiber may reduce the occurrence of gallstones and kidney stones.
A diet that’s high in fiber may cut your chances of getting kidney stones or gallstones. Doctors aren’t exactly sure why this is, but they speculate that it’s related to the blood sugar-regulating functions of fiber.
8. A high-fiber diet may reduce your risk of getting colon cancer.
Researchers haven’t proven this beyond a doubt yet, but doctors are pretty sure there’s a link between a high fiber diet and decreased rates of colon cancer.
The best sources of fiber.
Now that you’re clear on why fiber is good for you, it’s time to add more fiber to your diet. It’s not easy, which is why most of us don’t get enough. One problem is knowing how much fiber there is in the foods you’re eating.
Women generally need 25 grams per day, and men need around 38 grams, according to the USDA.
WebMD has a handy tool that’s free to use. Called the Fiber-O-Meter, it lets you enter your gender, your meal time, and type of food to search more than 7,000 foods. It’s fun to use, and you’ll learn which foods to eat to make sure you’re getting enough fiber in your diet.
The same USDA report cited earlier that warns us about our under consumption of fiber, also warns us that all the breads we eat aren’t helping matters. They’re typically made with refined flour, which is not a good source of dietary fiber.
They also state that foods with added fiber (as opposed to naturally occurring sources of fiber) may not provide the same health benefits.
Instead, the USDA recommends incorporating the following foods into your diet, to add more fiber:
- beans (navy beans, pinto beans, lentils, black beans)
- whole grains
One last word…
One last word of advice. If you discover that your current diet is sorely lacking in fiber, ease into a high-fiber diet. If you suddenly add lots of fiber to your diet, your GI tract will have a hard time adjusting.
Give your system plenty of time to adjust to your new diet, and add fiber gradually. Also, drink lots of water so the fiber stays soft. If you think you still have questions about fiber, your diet, and your health, maybe you could benefit from talking to a nutritionist or registered dietitian.