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Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is found in many foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Fiber is an important nutrient in the diet for many reasons. Consuming fiber helps you feel full, so you are less likely to overeat. Since fiber can help control appetite, eating a diet high in fiber can help prevent unwanted weight gain. Additionally, fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria in our gut, which helps keep the gastrointestinal tract happy. When beneficial gut bacteria begin to die off from lack of fiber intake, harmful gut bacteria can take over, leading to health consequences including infections, leaky-gut syndrome, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Not only does fiber consumption help support the population of good gut microbes, it helps promote regular bowel movements which helps with overall colon health. Chronic constipation can be a sign of fiber deficiency and increasing intake of fiber can often help with this symptom.
Not only is fiber essential for gut health, but also for cardiovascular health and controlling diabetes. When consuming carbohydrate-containing foods, the fiber in these foods helps slow the release of glucose into the blood stream, helping regulate blood sugars. Simple carbohydrates (juice, desserts, white bread, white rice, etc.) lack fiber which can lead to a rapid increase in blood sugar and subsequent insulin spike. Fiber intake can also help lower cholesterol levels, as it binds bile acids, excretes bile from the body, which causes the body to use existing circulating cholesterol to produce more bile acids. Overall good blood sugar control and healthy cholesterol levels help promote heart health.
For the above reasons, dietitians recommend choosing whole foods that contain the naturally occurring fiber, rather than choosing processed foods with the fiber removed. For example, drinking a blended fruit smoothie would contain the fiber from the fruit, as opposed to just juice, which contains no fiber. RDs also recommend consuming whole grains (whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, oats, etc) rather than processed grains (white bread, white rice, pastries, etc) as this promotes adequate fiber intake. The dietary reference intake (DRI) for fiber is about 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. All packaged foods that contain a food label will display the product’s fiber content. When reading food label, try to choose foods with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving, and strive to increase consumption of whole, plant-based foods.