Fiber: Is it Really Good for You?
Mon, April 19, 2021

Fiber: Is it Really Good for You?

A few things to note about fiber, or dietary fiber, is that it is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. It is also best known for its ability to relieve constipation. / Photo by ratmaner via 123RF

 

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You need more fiber in your diet” from doctors, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and even friends at some point in your life but especially when you’re constipated. While this saying is generally known by all, not many actually realize or understand what makes fiber so special. Do you know why fiber is so good for your health?

A few things to note about fiber, or dietary fiber, is that it is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. It is also best known for its ability to relieve constipation. Fiber brings other numerous health benefits, such as helping people to maintain a healthy weight, lowering risk of diabetes, lowering risk of heart diseases, and lowering risk of some types of cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center based in Rochester, Minnesota focused on integrated clinical practice, education, and research.

 

The Situation Today

According to a Dupont Nutrition and Health infographic shared in 2015, fiber enjoys strong awareness among the general population and is perceived as a nutrient that delivers important health benefits. More than 94% of surveyed individuals acknowledged that fiber is an important part of a daily healthy diet. Additionally, 85% of respondents associated fiber with digestive health, 72% considered fiber as a weight management tool, and 52% believed that fiber is good for heart health. These people acknowledged the need for fiber, with 60% making a purchase in the last 12 months expressing higher levels of fiber consideration. They were made up of women, the educated, and older consumers. Also, 84% of consumers expressed concern regarding getting enough fiber in their diet, and 53% are trying to reach a certain amount or as much fiber in their diet. 

As shared on a web page managed by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), the typical eating patterns of most people in the United States do not align with dietary guidelines, with three-fourths of the population having an eating pattern consisting of low amounts of vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils. Furthermore, even if more than half are meeting and exceeding total grain and protein food recommendations, the need for subgroups within each of these food groups are still not met.

The allure of chips, processed food, and foods high in sugar and calories has proven to be irresistible for a lot of people. Because of this, the amount of nutrients and fiber that each one receives is not exactly the equivalent of the amount of food that they eat. As a consequence of this diet, most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. As mentioned in the Dupont report, on average, consumers ingest 15 grams of fiber daily, which is only 60% of the recommended daily intake, which is 25 grams.

A Closer Look at Diet

A high percentage of the population in the United States is overweight, no thanks to the overconsumption of calories. More than two-thirds of all adults and one-third of all children and youth in the country were found to be either overweight or obese. The 2015 to 2020 dietary guideline as shared with the help of the ODPHP found that between the average dietary consumption and the recommended amount eaten, people tend to take added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium are 35%, 30%, and 10%,above recommended limits, respectively. In contrast, vegetables and dairy are around 10% below recommended limits, fruits are 25% below recommended limits, oils are 30% below recommended limits, and total grains and protein foods were found to be roughly 58% below recommended limits among most individuals.

There are different kinds of fibers, in different amounts depending on the kind of plant food. Dietary fiber includes the parts of plant foods your body cannot absorb or digest, known as roughage or bulk. These help break down and absorb food. Fiber isn’t digested in the body. It passes through your stomach, small intestines, colon, and out of your body relatively intact. What fiber does is that it adds weight and size to your stool, softening it so that it is easier to pass. Therefore, they help alleviate constipation. They also solidify loose and watery stools.

Fiber does improve bowel health and lowers the risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon. Studies have also found that a high-fiber diet lowers the risk of colorectal cancer. In addition, eating fiber-rich food regularly helps control blood sugar levels. For people with diabetes, fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar into the body, thus improving blood sugar levels and minimize the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Fiber also helps in managing or achieving a healthy weight.

The Mayo Clinic further explained that high-fiber foods tend to be more filling, take longer to eat, and are less energy-dense. This makes people less likely to eat more, more likely to stay satisfied for longer, and to eat fewer calories for the same volume of food. Overall, because eating fiber benefits the body in numerous ways, studies suggest that prolonged consumption can help you live longer and reduce the risk of all kinds of cancers and cardiovascular diseases.

Daily recommendations of fiber for male adults aged 50 or younger is 38 grams, males aged 51 and older is 30 grams. For women, the daily recommended amount of fiber is 25 grams for those 50 or younger and 21 grams for women 51 or older. In maintaining a healthy diet, the best selection of food to choose from includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, and other legumes, as well as nuts and seeds. Refined or processed food, even if fruits or vegetables, typically are lower in fiber because the processing removes the outer coating or bran from the actual grain, which lowers fiber content. Supplements are another option, but whole foods are still generally better. 

Fiber is important in everyday diet; high-fiber foods are good for your health. A scenario that would make fiber harmful is if too much is eaten. Too much fiber can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating, and cramping. Increasing fiber intake gradually over a few weeks can allow natural bacteria to adjust to the change slowly. Combined with drinking plenty of water, fiber will work at its best.