Fiber helps to maintain your digestive system and blood sugar levels, while lowering your risk of developing chronic health issues. Learn why fiber is key for your health.
Fiber is making a comeback. Ok to be fair, it never went anywhere. But with so much emphasis on protein, fats, and our other favorite macronutrients, fiber sometimes gets left in the dust.
Well, today’s your day fiber, we’re here to highlight who you are, what you do, and why you’re so essential for human health.
What is Fiber?
But first, back to basics. What exactly is fiber? Most carbohydrates are broken down in the body and turned into glucose – a form of sugar. Fiber is a carbohydrate however it cannot be broken down, and instead moves through the body undigested.
There are two kinds of fiber out there, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and can be found in foods like legumes and berries. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and can be found in foods like rice, wheat products, and leafy greens. These are just a few examples of fiber-rich foods, the world is full of fiber!
You can break down fiber types even more into the seven different kinds of naturally occurring plant fibers, or three different types of manufactured functional fibers. The latter can be modified or extracted from plants. So what does fiber do in the body?
Fiber and Your Digestive Health
People typically associate fiber with digestive health, and that’s for good reason. A higher fiber diet and good gut health go hand in hand.
Insoluble fiber helps food move through the digestive system, and is great for treating constipation. Fiber also helps regulate hunger by making you feel fuller, faster, which can also impact weight.
Unless it’s affecting your health, weight loss is not usually the goal. Instead, it’s important to focus on overall health and how you feel. That being said, fiber can help you manage your weight by filling you up with nutritious, lower-calorie foods while promoting gut health.
Over here at Intimina, we love talking about the good bacteria, or flora, in your body. In your digestive system lives your gut microbiome, living organisms like bacteria and fungi that help to maintain your digestion and immune system, along with many other functions.
Like many other things, your gut microbiome needs balance. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) likens fiber to a scrub brush that helps to clean your digestive tract. It helps to clean out and regulate the bacteria in your gut and remove buildup so that your microbiome and the rest of your gastrointestinal tract stay healthy and balanced. This is also key in helping to prevent colon cancer.
Fiber and Your Blood Sugar
When people think of blood sugar regulation they usually assume it’s in the context of diabetes. While that’s true, everyone deals with blood sugar regulation, whether or not they’re diabetic. Fiber is a key tool in helping maintain balanced blood sugar levels.
Target blood sugar ranges for the average adult are 80 to 130 mg/dL before a meal and less than 180 mg/dL two hours after the start of a meal. This may shift depending on your age, underlying health disorders, and other factors.
Huge blood sugar spikes and drops can lead to fatigue, food cravings, brain fog, and irritability. Fiber can help prevent that from happening. Many carbohydrates like white bread and pasta cause blood sugar spikes. Although fiber is a carb, the body doesn’t absorb and break it down, which means minimal blood sugar spikes.
Soluble helps with regulating blood sugar and lowers cholesterol. When you eat soluble fiber from foods like legumes, apples, and carrots the fiber attracts water in your gut, creating a gel that helps to slow digestion, helping to minimize blood sugar spikes.
Fiber and Your Overall Health
Fiber may be most well known for its role in digestion and blood sugar regulation, but that’s not all it does. Irregular blood sugar levels put you at higher risk for many other health issues, especially heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Fat and cholesterol have a bad reputation, but they are a necessary part of a balanced diet and are essential for your health. That being said, everything in moderation. Too much fat and cholesterol as you know can have detrimental effects on the body. That’s where fiber comes in to save the day again.
This incredible nutrient helps prevent your body from taking in some of the fat and cholesterol you consume. This helps to lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lowering your risk of heart disease. Consuming fiber regularly not only helps to lower your risk of developing these diseases but also decreases the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.
How To Eat More Fiber
So how much fiber do you need? Healthcare professionals recommend that the average adult consume 25 to 35 grams per day.
Counting grams can feel stressful and take the joy out of eating. Instead, you can help increase your fiber intake by focusing on eating more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and legumes – all of which are naturally high in fiber.
Here are some practical tips for increasing your fiber intake:
- Start your meals with a veggie side, like a salad or roasted seasonal vegetables.
- Spread your fiber intake throughout the day, instead of trying to get it all in one meal.
- Eat a wide variety of fiber-rich foods.
- If you need a snack, reach for something rich in fiber like veggies and dip, nuts and seeds, or some fruit.
- Add legumes to dips, soups, salads, and other fun places you can sneak them in.
- It’s normal to experience some gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation with a sudden increase in fiber. Stay hydrated, and slowly build up your intake.
Again, food shouldn’t be stressful. Try to lean towards a fiber-rich diet and use these tips to make it easier, but don’t let it take the fun out of eating. You probably won’t reach your fiber goals every day, and that’s ok – that’s life! Be easy on yourself and notice how much better you feel on the days you are eating more fiber.