7 Reasons to Add Fiber to Your Diet

The health-promoting benefits of fiber get a lot of press.  Just why is fiber good for you?  Fiber not only promotes health, it also helps to reduce your risk for some chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.  But that's not all.  Fiber provides health benefits in other ways.  Here are seven reasons to include plenty of delicious, high-fiber foods in your diet:

  1. Enhances bowel function - Fiber increases the weight and size of stools and softens them. Bulky stools are easier to pass, decreasing the chance of constipation.

  2. Promotes bowel health - Fiber lowers the risk of constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.  (Fiber helps to solidify stool, which is beneficial in those individuals with loose, watery stools.)

  3. Reduces cancer risk - Fiber is linked to a reduced risk of some cancers, especially colon and breast cancer.

  4. Normalizes blood sugar levels – Fiber (particularly soluble) slows the absorption of sugar, helping to improve blood sugar levels and, in turn,helping to better manage diabetes.

  5. Improves cholesterol levels – Fiber may help to lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, therefore reducing the risk of heart disease.

  6. Aids in weight loss – Soluble fiber prolongs stomach emptying so you feel fuller longer.  Fiber also tends to be less calorie-dense, providing fewer calories for the same volume of food (more satiating).

  7. Supports the immune system – Fiber supports friendly intestinal flora and speeds the transit time of wastes and toxins from the body.

High fiber foods include grains and whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas and other legumes, and nuts and seeds.  Refined or processed foods, such as canned fruits and vegetables and pulp-free juice, white bread and pasta, and refined cereals are lower in fiber content.  Whole foods rather than fiber supplements are better. Fiber supplements don't provide the vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients that are contained in high-fiber whole foods.

The current fiber recommendations are 38 and 25 grams of fiber per day for men and women, respectively.  But don't overdo it.  There are potential hazards for consuming too much fiber.  Too much fiber too quickly can cause gas, diarrhea, cramping, and bloating.  Excessive intake of fiber can also cause a fluid imbalance, which could lead to dehydration.

This is why it is important to drink ample water when following a high fiber diet.  Finally, too much non-fermentable fiber, typically in supplemental form, may lead to a mineral deficiency by reducing the absorption or increasing the excretion of several minerals, including calcium and iron.

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Denver Family Nutrition Examiner Diana Walley is a holistic nutrition student in Denver, Colorado.

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