Why is Fiber Good for You? (and Tips to Eat More)
By Alyssa Kessel, RDN, LD, Expert Dietitian
Everyone has seen the Activia commercials with Jamie Lee Curtis – you know, the one that promotes yogurt because of its fiber content (and constipation relief).
As silly as the commercials are, they do hold some truth: fiber is important for your diet. In addition to regulating your bowel movements, fiber helps lower your glucose (sugar) and “bad” cholesterol levels, aid in weight loss, and so much more.
Fiber is a carbohydrate
Dietary fiber is actually a carb that your body can’t digest. While your body breaks down other carbs into sugar molecules, fiber cannot be broken down and thus passes through your body undigested (as either a whole or gel-like fiber).
Fiber comes in two forms
- Dissolves in water to form a gel-like material
- Known to lower your blood glucose levels and improve your blood cholesterol levels
- Found in food like oats, barley, nuts, lentils, and citrus fruits
- Does not dissolve in water
- Helps food move through your digestive system easier (aka relieves constipation)
- Found in whole-grain foods (whole-grain bread, brown rice, whole-grain cereals, beans, legumes, nuts, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, and tomatoes)
Benefits of a high fiber diet
There are many benefits of fiber, but the most common include:
- Normalize bowel movements to relieve both constipation and diarrhea
- Increase the good gut bacteria. It can act as a prebiotic in your intestines.
- Lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. Fiber actually binds to the cholesterol before it can damage your arteries. You can read the study here.
- Lower your blood pressure (read the study here).
- Control your blood sugar levels. People with diabetes see spikes in these levels, but a high-fiber diet can help absorb those sugars and reduce your overall blood sugar level.
- Reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Aid in weight loss, because you digest high-fiber food slower and feel full longer (less desire to snack).
- Lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancers. Check out the study here.
Men and women have different needs
The Institute of Medicine recommends that men have 38 grams of fiber a day, and women have 25 grams per day.
If you don’t think you’re getting enough in your diet, here are some of my secret dietitian tips:
- Eat more whole grains. This means choosing whole-grain bread, rice, cereals, and pasta instead of white pasta, bread, and rice.
- Add more fruits such as apples and berries.
- Snack on raw veggies instead of chips and cookies.
- Eat more beans and legumes, both of which are high in fiber.
- Avoid refined and processed foods such as canned fruits, vegetables, or sugary juices. As foods are refined (or made into “white” versions), the processing plant removes a lot of fiber and adds more sugar. Both are big no-no’s to healthy eating!
I tell my patients to start adding high-fiber foods into their diet gradually, because eating too many, too quickly means you could experience side effects like gas, bloating, or cramping.