Dietary fiber is obtained from plant sources of food. It is a nondigestible carbohydrate which plays an important role in our health. Most of us tend to associate fiber for its benefit in relieving constipation and improving digestive health. While these are the more commonly known benefits of dietary fiber, its contribution to overall health reaches far beyond digestive benefits.
Dietary fiber is categorized into soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber blends into liquids and either dissolves, or may not dissolve and forms a gel-like substance instead. Soluble fiber is found in foods such as nuts, beans, seeds, oats, apples and bananas. Insoluble fiber does not blend with liquids and remains intact as it passes through the digestive tract. Many vegetables and whole grains are good sources of insoluble fiber. A diet based on whole foods can contribute to dietary needs of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
What makes fiber an important part of disease prevention and maintaining vibrant health?
Gut microbiome connection: Dietary fiber impacts the composition of gut microbes. A healthy and diverse microbiome supports numerous processes throughout the body. Mental health, inflammation, immune resilience are all influenced by our gut microbiome.
Improved insulin sensitivity: High intake of insoluble dietary fiber has been shown to reduce insulin resistance which may help to prevent diabetes in individuals at risk. This can be partially attributed to the prevention of post-meal surges in glucose and insulin. Reducing drastic fluctuations in blood glucose helps improve insulin sensitivity, which is vital in preventing Type 2 diabetes.
Weight management: When combined with a healthy lifestyle, dietary fiber can offer benefit in weight management. Fiber increases satiety (feeling full), reduces fat storage, and favors a gut microbiome which improves energy balance. Collectively, these processes can lead to stabilized weight and potential weight loss.
Digestive health: This is a central and fundamental aspect of restoring and maintaining optimal health. Fiber is key here because it encourages movement of digested food and can help relieve constipation. Healthy bowel habits are important in the body’s detoxification processes, which contributes to better hormone balance, reduced inflammation and prevention of chronic diseases.
Detoxification: In an environment where we are increasingly exposed to toxins in various forms, fiber is a valuable tool in improving the body’s detoxification mechanisms. It can aid in binding toxins directly and indirectly with bile to facilitate removal of various external and internal toxins from the body.
These are just a few of the numerous benefits seen from adequate dietary fiber intake. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, daily fiber intake should be 22-28 grams for adult females, and 28-34 grams for adult males. It is important to gradually increase fiber intake, as adding too much fiber too quickly can cause initial gastric discomfort. Also, increasing water intake with increased fiber intake will be important to support the action of fiber. As always, it is best to follow recommendations from your health care provider. However, starting with balanced and wholesome meals can set you on a path towards achieving your health goals.
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