3 Reasons to Increase Fiber in Your Diet

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

Dietary Fiber.  Important!

Everywhere you look, be it TV commercials, billboard advertisements or in magazine articles, we are told to include more fiber in our diet. It is no great secret that it is good for us; we are told that fact often enough, but why? Other than the fact that having a decent amount of fiber in our diet will give us regular bowel movements, many of us don’t know much about the benefits.

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In fact, a lot of us are not even sure what fiber is – we are in an age where food and diets have become and obsession, so there are a multitude of food-related terms that we are supposed to now know. Well the mystery about dietary fiber is about to be revealed, so stay tuned.

What Is Fiber Anyway?

You unfortunately won’t find any fiber in that delicious filet steak, dietary fiber is only found in food that comes from plant stuffs. It is the plant cell material that the digestive enzymes cannot break down to be absorbed. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and each one has different beneficial effects, so both should be included in the diet somewhere.

Soluble fiber, as the name suggests, is soluble in water, absorbing it during digestion, and it can be found in fruits, root vegetables, legumes (like lentils, peas and broad beans), golden linseeds and the grains: oats, rye and barley.  They increase the bulk of the stool and make them softer, which make them easier to pass. In addition, it has been suggested that fiber  may decrease the levels of harmful cholesterol.

Insoluble fiber is not soluble in water and therefore is unchanged during the digestion process. It is found in whole meal breads, pasta and crackers, bran, edible peels and seeds, brown rice, bulgur wheat, cereals, buckwheat and rolled oats. Insoluble fiber helps the movement of other food through the digestive system, keeping the bowel healthy and helping to prevent any digestive problems, like constipation.

What Is All The Fuss About?

Now, you can begin to see why there is such an emphasis of including fiber in your diet, but how much should you actually be consuming?  We have all heard that you should have five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but little is said about how much fiber we should be including in our daily diet. The recommended daily amount of fiber intake for adults is between 25 and 30 grams per day, which should come only from food and not supplements.

Most people fall short of the recommended daily intake, but there are a number of benefits that can be gained from boosting the amount of fiber in your diet. It can help prevent heart disease and weight gain, improve blood glucose control in diabetes, as well as offer protection against colorectal cancers, although recently,  this has been disputed.

  • Preventing Cardiac Disease: Research, particularly epidemiological studies, has found that high levels of dietary fiber are associated with lower rates of coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, stroke and hypertension. However, there is little information available of the cause and effect, and by what mechanism dietary fiber is causing the cardiac disease prevention. Research has indicated that soluble fiber has a significant effect in reducing blood cholesterol, with those consuming the recommended intake of fiber having a mean 10.6% reduction in low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. A suggested mechanism for this it that the fiber binds bile acids in the small intestine, and increases their excretion in the feces.

  • Prevention and Management of Diabetes: Epidemiological studies have shown that including high levels of fiber in the diet have been linked with a significant reduction in the incidence of diabetes. Results based studies of over 427,000 individuals with a high level of whole grain or cereals in their diet, suggested that there was a 29% reduction in the development of diabetes. Research suggests that increasing dietary fiber intake in patients with Type I or Type II diabetes is associated with improvements in glycemic control and a decrease in the need for oral medication or insulin doses.

  • Maintaining A Healthy Gastrointestinal Tract: Dietary fibers have a number of beneficial effects on the gastrointestinal tract, by eliciting responses from the gastrointestinal hormones. An increase in dietary fiber can improve a number of gastrointestinal disorders including, duodenal ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, inflammatory bowel disease, constipation and hemorrhoids.

Fiber Overload?

If you are going to increase your dietary intake of fiber, make sure that you do it gradually. If you move quickly  from no daily fiber intake  to 30 grams per day of fiber in your diet, and you may find you also have an increase in flatulence.  It can also leave you feeling sluggish and bloated, as well as causing stomach cramps. Those with any pre-existing bowel conditions, such as irritable bowel disease should consult their doctor before modifying their diet.

Eating right is all about having a healthy diet all round.  Enjoy your food, just swap in some fiber to boost the health of your gastrointestinal tract.

Los Angeles Colon and Rectal  Surgical Associates

The board certified surgeons of Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates can answer your questions about dietary fiber and about other diseases of the colon, rectum and anus.  By calling (310)273-2310, you can schedule your confidential consultation, and remain on the path of good health.

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