As unglamorous as it may sound, fiber is one of the most important aspects of the food you eat and affects your health in important ways. It influences how your immune system works, it can help you lose weight as well as reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, colon cancer and digestive problems.
Fiber is the part of fruits or vegetables that you cannot digest. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Both types make and keep you feeling full longer so that you end up eating less to help you keep your weight under control.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a thick gel-like substance in your stomach. It slows down your digestion and how quickly carbohydrates and other nutrients are absorbed into your bloodstream. This keeps your blood glucose from rising too quickly so that your body doesn’t need to produce as much insulin to handle it. The soluble fiber also interferes with the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol, helping to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) in the blood.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve and makes it past your stomach all the way to your colon where most of your gut bacteria live. The fiber is fermented by the good bacteria in your gut to produce short chain fatty acids. These short chain fatty acids are energy for the cells lining your colon, they are anti-inflammatory and are important in keeping the colon cells healthy, preventing the growth of tumor cells and encouraging the destruction of cancer cells in the colon. Insoluble fiber is also called roughage because it helps move food and waste through your digestive system, thus helping to prevent constipation.
Some ideal food sources of soluble fiber include:
- Beans and peas
- Fruits, especially berries
- Nuts and seeds
Sources of insoluble fiber include:
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Whole grains, preferably organic and unprocessed
- Vegetables like green beans, celery and carrots
- Whole fruit, including all edible peels
All fiber comes from plant-based foods and you should aim for a minimum of 25 grams of fiber per day. Include a wide variety of vegetables in your diet like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, onions, sweet potatoes and jicama. Eat fruits whole to benefit from the fiber, instead of drinking juice. Make beans, nuts and seeds a regular part of your diet and don’t forget to drink lots of water. In as little as 3 days the increase in fiber begins to influence the diversity of your gut microbes and studies show that for every 10 grams of fiber you add daily, you lower your risk of death by 10%.