There are two types of fiber
Ekaterina Markelova/ShutterstockAccording to U.S. dietary guidelines, adults should consume anywhere between 25 and 30 grams of dietary fiber from food (not supplements) daily, but most are only getting about 15 grams, about half the recommended amount. (Here are 30 ways to get more fiber.) There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and both play important roles in helping us to maintain healthy digestion and fight off diseases—here's a list of fiber's impressive health benefits. "Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel, acting like a sponge in binding cholesterol-rich bile acids, which are then eliminated as waste," says Melissa Majumdar, RD, senior bariatric dietitian at Brigham and Women's Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. This cholesterol-lowering type of fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus, carrots, barley, and fiber supplements that use psyllium husk, she explains. Insoluble fiber, which is found in wheat bran, whole-wheat flour, nuts, beans, potatoes, and vegetables such as cauliflower and green beans, adds bulk to our stool and helps move food through the digestive tract. "Insoluble fiber aids in digestion by acting like a broom and cleaning out our intestinal track," says dietitian Angel Planells, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Lower your cholesterol and risk for cardiovascular disease
Vladislav Noseek/ShutterstockAdding whole-grain dietary fiber as part of a healthy diet may help improve blood cholesterol levels, and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. Soluble fiber is what lowers LDL cholesterol—it can also reduce inflammation in the body and lower blood pressure, says Planells. "When soluble fiber enters the small intestine, it acts like a sponge and binds the cholesterol, and doesn't allow it to be absorbed into the body," he says. Good sources of soluble fiber include legumes, psyllium, flaxseeds, oats, and oat bran. "Start the day with either steel cut or regular oats—both are a great way to reduce your cholesterol levels."
Drop your risk for type 2 diabetes
Syda Productions/ShutterstockEating more fiber is not only good for heart health; research indicates it can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. When we add fiber to our diet, our bodies break down carbs more slowly, and this allows our blood sugar levels to rise more gradually, explains Planells. "Rather than eat simple grains or pasta, which are absorbed rapidly because the sugar is broken down quickly, choose a whole grain such as quinoa, legumes, oats, or farro, which give you better control over blood sugar." Steal this cheat sheet of 15 superfoods for diabetics.
Lose weight and maintain a healthy weight
VGstockstudio/ShutterstockGetting to a healthy weight and staying there can lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and many other conditions, including cancer—check out these eight signs that you're already at a healthy weight. While losing weight and maintaining the weight loss is not easy, adding fiber to your daily diet can help, according to research. "Fiber is linked to having a lower body weight because whole grains are usually lower in calories than high-fat foods," says Planells. "Fiber calories from high quality, high-fiber foods are also more satiating—they add bulk and slow the digestion process, and that makes it more likely for us to lose weight over time."
Cut your risk for getting kidney stones
Africa Studio/ShutterstockKidney stones hit about one out of every 10 people in the United States—here are the warning signs and ways to avoid kidney stones. The prevalence of kidney stones has increased from 3.8 percent in the late 1970s to 8.8 percent in the late 2000s, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Drinking up to 12 glasses of water a day, reducing your salt intake, and maintaining a healthy weight can all aid in reducing the risk of developing kidney stones. Research suggests that increasing your intake of dietary fiber can help lower the incidence of kidney stones. Eating high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables help make your urine less acidic, creating an unfriendly environment for the stones.
Keep your digestive track healthy
Africa Studio/ShutterstockStaying regular is key to digestive health and the best way to ensure regularity is to eat more fiber. "Fiber helps food move through the digestive tract, increases stool bulk, and helps prevent constipation and irregular stool," explains Mujamdar. According to research a high-fiber diet can also help prevent diverticulitis, a condition that occurs when pouches form in the walls of the colon and become inflamed—here are valuable tips on avoiding flareups. "The longer the waste sits in the intestinal track, the longer the body is exposed to toxins, and that increases the risk for disease," says Planells. "Waste sitting in our gut can promote bad bacteria to develop, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems."
Boost your energy levels
oneinchpunch/ShutterstockFiber may not provide calories—energy—but it can help give you a lift by improving your digestion and by slowing down the release of glucose into our bloodstream, explains Majumdar. Fiber slows the sugar dump into the bloodstream, so you won't have a crazy energy spike after eating, and you'll avoid bottoming out once the carbs are processed, she says. "Refined sugars give you the spike and then you crash." Here are 25 more natural energy boosters.
Remember: All things in moderation
pearl7/ShutterstockWhen increasing your fiber intake, it's important to do it gradually, says Planells. "If you take too much, too quickly, you will go from constipation to diarrhea." Too much fiber can cause different types of gastrointestinal distress from gas and bloating to constipation to cramping and diarrhea. "If you are eating one serving of fruit or vegetable daily, increase it to two, then introduce whole grains." He also warns that if you have conditions such as diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn's disease, you may need to eat less fiber. "Air on the side of caution, and check with your physician before you increase your fiber intake." You may want to check out these diets for people with digestive issues.
Whole foods are better than supplements
Fecundap stock/ShutterstockWhile there is no evidence that taking fiber supplements (made from psyllium husk or methyl cellulose) are harmful, it is better to get fiber from the foods that you eat because they provide vitamins, minerals, and nutrients not found in supplements, explains Majumdar. There are endless ways to add fiber to your daily diet. Starting with breakfast—which has lots of options for fiber—try a high-fiber cereal or oatmeal and then add shredded carrots, zucchini, or spinach for an added boost. Add nuts, seeds, or beans to your salad; if you make ground meat, add beans or lentils and some vegetables to make the meat go farther and increase the fiber content, she says. When it comes to healthy snacks, Majumdar suggests foods that help you feel fuller longer, such as roasted chickpeas or a piece of fruit. "Any foods that let you eat the peel will have more fiber."
You may need to drink more water
WAYHOME studio/ShutterstockIncreasing your fiber intake may mean that you need to increase the amount of water you are drinking every day. Check out these seven clever ways to get more fluids. "Fiber acts like a sponge, so it needs the water to go along with it," says Majumdar. The general guidelines for the amount of water you should drink from beverages and foods are approximately 2.7 liters (91 ounces) for women and approximately 3.7 liters (125 ounces daily) for men, according to the National Academies of Science and Engineering. Another way to look at it is to take your body weight in pounds and divide it by two to get the number of ounces you should drink daily, says Majumdar. "If your body is not adapting to the increase in fiber, you may need to drink more water."