We often hear that we should eat more fiber, but few people understand what dietary fiber really is or why it’s so important to our health. Couple that with the confusing messages we receive about …
The ABCs of Dietary Fiber: 3 Common Questions Answered
We often hear that we should eat more fiber, but few people understand what dietary fiber really is or why it’s so important to our health. Couple that with the confusing messages we receive about nutrition from all angles, and it’s enough to make us consider throwing in the towel.
At PMR, our nutritionists and dietitians are intimately familiar with the complexities and pitfalls of developing a healthy diet. By answering the following questions, we hope to clear up some of the confusion about what dietary fiber is, where you can find it, and how it can help you live a long and healthy life.
- What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber (also referred to as “roughage”) is actually the portion of many plant-based foods that passes through the body without being digested. Generally speaking, there are two types of dietary fiber, found in varying quantities in different foods. Soluble fiber is so called because it absorbs water on its way through the body. Insoluble fiber, surprisingly enough, does not absorb water, which is one reason that dietary fiber can improve your bowel movements.
- What are the health benefits of consuming dietary fiber?
Let’s be honest—you may know dietary fiber mainly from its popular association with bowel movements. In fact, it’s true that fiber can both solidify loose stools and soften large stools, while also improving the overall health of the colon.
But as it turns out, that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fiber’s health benefits. If you’ve recently purchased a box of wheat-based cereal or whole grain oats, you may have noticed a heart health symbol prominently displayed on the packaging. This is related to research showing that daily fiber intake may lower both cholesterol and blood pressure, greatly improving overall heart health. In addition, dietary fiber may reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, and can even assist in weight loss and prevention of obesity.
- What foods contain dietary fiber?
According to the Institute of Medicine, adults should be getting anywhere from 20 to 38 grams of dietary fiber from their diet each day, but most people are getting far less. Fortunately, many delicious, versatile, and widely available foods contain high amounts of dietary fiber.
Fruits and vegetables include dietary fiber, for example—in fact, so many are great fiber sources that it’s not worth listing them all, though some of our favorites include carrots, bananas, strawberries, apples, leafy greens, and broccoli. Most nuts and legumes are also high-fiber foods.
That shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that fiber comes from plant-based foods, and in fact, adding the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables to your routine can go a long way toward maximizing your fiber intake. However, many people most closely associate fiber with whole grains. And it’s true: as opposed to refined grains (think white rice or white bread), whole grain foods like oatmeal, multigrain or wheat bread, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta are among the best sources of dietary fiber.
Now that you know a little bit more about fiber, you have the tools not only to develop a healthier diet, but to understand why you’re choosing healthy foods. And if you’re struggling with consistency, motivation, or anything else, don’t give up—pick up the phone and give the experts at PMR a call today!