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While most know that fiber is beneficial for healthy digestion, many often miss the other benefits of fiber and why it is such an important part of a healthy diet. How is it that something that we don’t even digest can help to keep us healthy? Let’s take a look.

Fiber is actually the part of the plant that we cannot break down, digest, and use for energy. There are lots of different types of fiber, many of which you might have heard of. Starch, bulk, roughage, pectins, and others are often used interchangeably with the word fiber. However, all of the different types of fibers can be classified into two groups: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers dissolve in water (hence the soluble part) and form a gel. Insoluble fibers do not do this. Instead they aid in the movement of materials through the intestinal tract. Both are an important part of our intestinal and overall health.

Fiber is primarily found in plants, therefore fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans are great sources. Other foods such as meats, dairy, refined grains, and many processed foods are low in fiber. Look on the Nutrition Facts Panel to see just how much fiber your foods contain. It is recommended that men get 30-38 grams of fiber per day and women get 21-25 grams of fiber. There are fiber supplements, but these are mostly soluble fibers only. Check out the label to make sure you know what’s in your supplement.

Fiber is best known for keeping us all regular. Regular bowel movements are of course a healthy part of life, but fiber is more helpful than that! A high fiber diet can help manage irritable bowel disease and some studies have shown a relationship between high fiber and lower risks of certain cancers. Did you know that fiber helps us feel full, so we’re less likely to overeat during and in between meals? It does this by slowing down contents in our intestines so we feel fuller for a longer period of time.  Fiber has also been shown to better control blood sugar in those with diabetes. Better blood sugar control can mean less insulin and fewer long term consequences of diabetes. Fiber also helps to protect against heart disease, which is the #1 cause of the most fatalities in the United States. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol (in the form of bile) and carries it out of the body, therefore reducing the amount of overall cholesterol.

In order to keep our intestines happy and our bodies healthy, include fiber into each meal of your day. Remember to start slowly and include adequate fluids throughout the day. Eating a lot of fiber without enough fluids can actually cause more stomach upset than relief. It is best to start slowly by adding a few new high fiber foods per day. Start adding small portions of things like fresh fruits or nuts or seeds to your meals. Then take a look at your cereals, pastas, and other packaged products and make sure they have at least 3-4 grams of fiber per serving. Before you know it, you’ll reach your daily recommendation of fiber.  Trust your gut!