How Fiber Keeps Your Brain and Heart in Shape

It’s no secret that fiber (what my grandmother called “roughage”) is the key to keeping you, um… regular. But that is just one benefit of the food voted “Most Likely to Make a Middle Schooler Snicker.”

It’s true. High fiber foods make you poop. But they also make you feel full faster. That means you’re likely to eat less. And that means you’re less likely to pack on extra pounds!

It’s those extra pounds that can lead to health problems later. Being overweight can lead to a higher risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes and other serious health problems.

As fiber moves through your body, it slows digestion. That’s how fiber--which is defined as the parts of plant food that your body cannot digest--keeps you regular. It makes your stools softer and easier to pass.

There are two types of fiber — insoluble and soluble. Both should be part of a healthy diet.

Insoluble Fiber
This type of fiber is found in the skins and seeds of fruit (so always eat those peels!) as well as whole grains and vegetables. It adds bulk to the stool and seems to help food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. Insoluble fiber can improve bowel-related health problems, such as hemorrhoids and problems controlling your bowel movements. If you’re irregular (constipated), consider eating more high fiber foods that contain insoluble fiber to get things moving.

Soluble Fiber
This type of fiber attracts water, much the same way oats absorb water to turn into oatmeal. During digestion, soluble fiber turns into a gel. High fiber foods that include soluble forms of fiber are oatmeal, apples, nuts, blueberries, lentils, peas, seeds, and beans, to name a few. (Check out this recipe for a yummy, high fiber kale and bean soup you can make in your slow cooker!)

Foods that contain high levels of soluble fiber fight diabetes because your body doesn’t absorb foods that contain soluble fiber. That means there are no blood sugar spikes that can put you at risk for Type 2 diabetes.

High fiber foods also help lower cholesterol, a key risk factor for heart disease. It does that by attaching to cholesterol particles and sweeping them along as the fiber moves out of your body.

Finally, high fiber foods help keep you regular because they absorb water as they pass through your system. That helps bulk up your stool. In fact, fiber supplements generally contain mostly soluble fiber.

How Much Fiber Do You Need?
Most Americans don’t eat enough high fiber foods, according to the Institute of Medicine. Women need 25 grams of fiber per day, but usually consume only 13 grams. Men need 38 grams per day but eat only about 17.

Try these tips for adding more high fiber foods to your diet:

  • Eat the peels of your apples and potatoes.
  • Eat whole, rather than refined grains. Choose whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal.
  • Eat two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables per day. Beans, sweet potatoes, cauliflower and berries are close to the top of the list of high fiber food choices.
  • Check food labels. Look for foods with five grams of fiber or more per serving.

Remember, it’s not just how much fiber you’re eating that keeps you healthy, but what kinds of fiber you choose to eat. What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

Sources: The Mayo Clinic, U.S. National Library of Medicine, WebMD


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