As consumers, we have all been introduced to the term fiber. Fiber is advertised on cereal boxes, on food labels and on TV commercials. We all know that it is good to consume fiber throughout the day, but do you know the reason behind this push toward high-fiber diets?
To begin with, let's get to the basics about fiber. What is fiber and what, specifically does it do for your body? Fiber is defined as carbohydrates that cannot be digested by the body. It comes from plant sources and is found in two different forms. Soluble fiber becomes a gel when mixed with liquid in the body. Soluble fiber is found in foods such as oats, beans, peas, apples, and oranges. This type of fiber is essential to the body due to its ability to lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar. Insoluble fiber is a type of fiber that remains solid when mixed with liquid in the body. It is found in foods such as whole grains, green beans, cauliflower and fruit skins. This type of fiber is essential in moving waste through the intestines and balancing the pH in the intestine. It is recommended that individuals consume 20-35 grams of fiber each day in the ratio of 75:25 insoluble to soluble fiber.
You now know what fiber is and what it does for your body, but what other benefits does a high-fiber diet offer? A diet rich in fiber has been shown to decrease hypertension, arthritis, diverticular disease, and diabetes. Researchers performed 10 studies in the United States and Europe with 91,058 men and 245,186 women over a period of time extending from six to ten years. These studies showed a direct correlation between the amount of fiber consumed and the incidences of heart disease. It was found that for every ten grams of fiber people took in each day the risk of developing heart disease decreased by 14%. The risk of dying from heart disease decreased by 27%! Imagine the decrease in heart disease in the US if the average person attained the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day!
Okay, so fiber is important, but what are some ways you can apply this concept and increase your daily consumption of fiber? First of all, whenever you have the chance, opt for whole fruits instead of juice. Fruit skins are an excellent source of fiber! Select whole grain cereals and breads whenever possible. You can look on the ingredient list on the package to make sure that the product has whole grains. Substitute beans for meat at least 2 times a week. Beans are high in fiber and meat has none. Eat lots of raw veggies as snacks. It is easy to attain the fiber you need if you change a few simple habits. If you do this, your bowels will be more regular, your heart will be healthier, and your cholesterol will lower. You may even find that there is a fair amount of truth to the saying, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away".
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Health.gov: Build a Healthy Base. (2004).
About.com: High Fiber Fruits Lower Heart Disease Risk. (2004).