10 Health Benefits of Fiber
We’re always being told to eat more fiber. Of course, it’s good for us and we understand this because we’ve been told by people in the know; doctors, our science teacher at school, athletes with lucrative sponsorship deals with makers of breakfast cereals. But where do we find fiber and what does it actually do?
Health Benefits of Fiber
High Nutrition, Low Calorie – Fiber is present in vegetables, nuts, fresh and dried fruit, whole grain products such as brown rice, and pulses. Fibrous foods are low in calories and high in nutritional value. This is great news if you are trying to burn fat, or stay lean.
Feel Fuller for Longer – Fibrous foods act like a sponge. When they enter the stomach they absorb the water contained there, expand and fill your stomach. When eating a high fiber meal, you can eat less and feel fuller than you would when eating say, cake. Because they take longer to digest, you’ll also feel full for longer.
Reduced Risk of Diabetes – When digesting, insulin is produced so cells can absorb the sugar from broken-down carbohydrates. It’s no secret that a high sugar diet leads to diabetes, which in turn leads to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, obesity, kidney failure and nerve damage.
Fiber is necessary because, while it increases blood sugar level, the increase is not so drastic. This prevents your body becoming resistant to the insulin necessary to help absorb the naturally occurring sugars into your cells. High fiber foods help prevent diabetes and are recommended for those who are diabetic.
More Frequent Bowel Movements – High fiber foods also absorb water in the rest of the digestive system. Simply put, it means going to the toilet more frequently, easier bowel movements and cleaner guts. How this translates in health terms is less chance of hemorrhoids, constipation, piles and the one we all want to avoid: bowel cancer. Doctors recommend between one and three bowel movements a day.
Better For Your Teeth – Fibrous foods like vegetables and brown rice are also known as complex carbohydrates. You might have heard of them as low-sugar carbs, or healthy carbs, as opposed to the high sugar refined carbs found in your Big Mac.
The “complex” part means the molecules are large and can’t be split so easily by the enzymes in your saliva. This is why a Big Mac (containing refined carbs), is physically easier to eat than a bowl of brown rice (complex carb).
Less sugar in the mouth means less chance of tooth decay.
Lowers Cholesterol – That fiber helps lower cholesterol is a widely known fact. But how does it work?
Bile acids rotate through the gut and help absorb the fats we ingest. When the bile has moved through the guts, it is reabsorbed ready for new fats we ingest with our next meal.
Fiber is like a grit found within a cleaning substance. The presence of the grit causes anything stubborn to be washed away. The same principal applies here.
When fiber is present in good quantities, some of the bile acids leave our bodies when we visit the bathroom, while the remaining bile is reabsorbed in a smaller amount. The Liver then has to make more bile acid and to do this it needs cholesterol.
This is the big pay-off: high fiber diets will naturally lower blood cholesterol, making you a welcome face at your doctor’s surgery.
Reduced Risk of Gall Stones – A second pay-off of the fiber – bile acid relationship is a decreased chance of gall stones containing cholesterol. This is the most common type and also very painful, as anyone who has suffered a Gall Stone will tell you.
Helps Keep Your Good Bacteria in Order – When fibers are present in the gut they ferment, in the same way that your home brew (alcohol) is silently fermenting in a dark corner of your home. This fermentation nourishes the Mucosa cells in the intestine. Mucosa is the wall of your gut; a barrier between the blood vessels and the bacteria that is present in the gut. This bacterium is programmed to eat whatever comes its way – usually your food – however, when there is nothing for it to eat, it will begin eating the mucosa. So, a well nourished mucosa defends your blood vessels from the bacteria.
If the mucosa cells are not performing properly, or “acting outside their authority” (i.e. potentially becoming cancerous) there are substances that are built during the fermentation process that will restore order to this all-important barrier within the gut. The presence of fiber is the essential ingredient to this process and keeping bowel cancer and other intestinal disorders at bay.
Decreases the Amount of Fat Absorbed – Fat molecules are only broken down in the gut. When they arrive, they are too large to go through the Mucosa barrier as they are and so must be reduced by enzymes. Fat molecules that make it into the blood stream are either used for something, or deposited somewhere, like your belly.
Fiber prevents the enzymes from breaking the fats down to such a size where they can be absorbed through the mucosa barrier and into the blood vessels. Therefore, less fat is absorbed by the body, keeping you leaner.
Prevents Diverticulosis – Diverticulosis is very common in Western society and a product of low fiber diets combined with little or no exercise and poor water intake. What happens is the gut is severely congested, the pressure rises and at weak points the Mucosa is turned outwards.
Imagine you are driving down a straight road. On either side is a wall. This road is the wall of your gut. While driving, you come to a small cul-de-sac; this is what a Diverticulosis looks like. Food can become trapped within this cul-de-sac causing inflammation and possibly perforation.
Fiber is important in preventing Diverticulosis because it keeps the traffic in your internal highways flowing.
The Harvard School of Public Health recommends between 20 and 25 grams of fiber per day. You can measure this easily by counting the amount of fibrous food items to eat each day. Personally, I aim for about five whole vegetables, three pieces of fruit and a couple of handfuls of brown rice. But that’s just me. Eat what you’re comfortable with and consult your doctor if you have questions or concerns.
If you’re switching from a low fiber diet to a high fiber diet, it’s wise to make your transition slowly, giving your digestive system a chance to adjust.
Here’s to your health.