Fiber is the indigestible aspect of foods that has numerous health benefits. Fiber can be divided into various categories of soluble versus insoluble, fermentable versus nonfermentable, viscous versus nonviscous so on and so forth. This article will focus on total fiber as it is the most important piece to ensure balance and the most wide spread health benefits. Increasing your fiber intake will help your heart, colon, blood glucose regulation, decrease your risk of breast cancer and assist with weight loss and maintenance.
Dietary fiber lowers total cholesterol and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and reduces your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It can also lower your chances of having a heart attack or similar event. It does this by absorbing cholesterol as it moves through the digestive system and is eliminated in your stool. Even better improvements are observed when a high fiber diet is combined with a low glycemic load diet. That combination lowers triglyceride levels and increases HDL or the “good” cholesterol. Ultimately, by increasing your dietary fiber by 10 grams/day you can lower your risk of a coronary related event by 14% and a resultant fatal event by 24%.
Blood sugar regulation (prediabetes or diabetes) is a problem that affects 8.3% of the American population. That number only includes those that are diagnosed. The Diabetes Association estimates that 79 million people are prediabetic. Increasing your fiber intake can decrease your risk of developing type II diabetes, help regulate your glucose levels and decrease the complications associated with diabetes. Fiber rich foods result in smaller, more controlled rises in blood glucose after a meal. This allows the pancreas to respond appropriately with just enough insulin to keep levels balanced. A meal that is quickly digested and absorbed, most simple or refined carbohydrates, will have rapid spikes in blood sugar causing the pancreas to over respond and release large amounts of insulin. Over time this exhausts the pancreas leading to death of the insulin producing cells and insulin resistance.
You can lower your risk of breast cancer (a hormonal cancer) by increasing your dietary fiber. Dietary fiber will absorb excess estrogens circulating throughout the body that are then excreted in the stool. This lowers estrogen levels that will lower the estrogen exposure to sensitive tissues (breast, endometrium, and prostate). Estrogen is metabolized into four metabolites; 2 are protective and 2 are cancer causing (slightly simplified of course). Dietary fiber pushes estrogen metabolism towards the protective forms helping to reduce one’s breast cancer risk.
Weight loss and weight maintenance is positively influenced by dietary fiber by helping you feel full sooner and longer. During weight loss, there is an increase in estrogens and toxins entering the bloodstream as the adipose (fat) cells are broken down. By increasing your fiber you will not only help with satiety, but be protecting your body through the weight loss process by lessening the damaging effects of the elevated estrogen and heavy metals.
The recommended Fiber intake for Men is 38 grams/day and 25 grams/day for women. That is the bare minimum and you should aim higher to better your health and wellbeing by increasing fiber rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and whole, unrefined grains.
By Marsha Hamilton
1. Linus Pauling Institute. www.lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/fiber/
2. Diabetes Association of America. www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/
3. Pubmed. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/