A Fiber Primer
Confused about what type of fiber to eat and how much? Fiber is a natural part of plants that doesn't get digested by humans. Instead it just passes through our gut. So, why bother eating it? It turns out that focusing on fiber may be the best way to eat healthy.
- Fiber keeps your bowels moving,
- It helps lower cholesterol,
- It helps to regulate blood sugar and control diabetes,
- It helps to maintain healthy estrogen metabolism, thus potentially lowering the risk of colon, breast, prostate, and uterine cancers,
- It lowers risk of colon cancer, diverticulosis, and hemorrhoids, and (perhaps most importantly)
- It supports a diverse population of beneficial intestinal flora—a healthy microbiome.
A healthy microbiome is important for everything health-related from head-to-toe: a healthy immune system, a happy brain, healthy heart and bones, healthy skin, healthy joints, and of course, a healthy gut.
We should ingest approximately 20 grams of fiber for each 1,000 calories we eat. For an average 1500-1600 calorie diet, that would come to approximately 35 grams of fiber per day. And believe me, that takes effort. A salad for lunch just won't cut it. You need to consciously eat fiber with every meal. Try steal-cut oatmeal with nuts, seeds, and/or berries for breakfast. Try your salad with beans; and more seeds for lunch. Try brown rice with vegetables for dinner. You get the idea.
Soluble vs. Insoluble
Soluble or insoluble fiber? Both are important. Soluble fiber (present in oatmeal, lentils, beans, apples, nuts, blueberries, etc.) lowers cholesterol and helps to regulate blood sugar by delaying gastric emptying. Insoluble fiber (mostly found in grains and vegetables) adds bulk and helps your digestive process move. Most fiber-rich foods have both soluble as well as insoluble fiber, so don't lose your sleep over that. Just eat more plants!
When increasing your intake of fiber, start slowly. If you are not used to eating a lot of fiber (the average American eats barely 7-12 lbs of fiber per year), adding it too quickly may result in bloating, constipation, or even diarrhea. Add it to your diet gradually, over several days or even weeks. And, be sure to drink plenty of water. When you think of all the health benefits of fiber, it's definitely worth the effort.
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