Dietary fiber: the unsung hero in many healthy diets. While often known for its ability to relieve constipation, this carbohydrate is unique in the fact that it can’t be broken down into sugar molecules like other carbs. The benefits of fiber go beyond constipation relief, however. Foods containing fiber help you maintain a healthy weight while lowering your risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Fiber is often described as either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in apples, citrus fruits, carrots, oats, peas and beans. Insoluble fiber assists movement through your digestive system and increases stool bulk. Whole-wheat flour, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, have high levels of insoluble fiber.
In a recent study, people who ate more fiber—26 grams a day—lowered their odds of Type 2 diabetes by 18 percent compared to those that consumed less than 19 grams of fiber a day. Fiber’s dual role of keeping blood sugar levels low and maintaining a healthy weight make it ideal for those with prediabetes.
In addition to lowering your risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the benefits of fiber include normalizing bowel movements, lowering cholesterol levels, controlling blood sugar levels and maintaining a healthy weight. Fiber lowers your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon, which may prevent colon diseases. High-fiber foods take longer to eat and are more filling than their low-fiber counterparts. You get more bang for your buck with fiber because they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
While many fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, make sure that you steer clear of processed foods. Canned food, pulp-free juices and non-whole-grain items are lower in fiber. Enriched foods have some B vitamins and iron reintroduced, but still lack high levels of fiber. Whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and nuts offer the most fiber in your diet.
If you’re struggling to introduce fiber into your daily routine, consider choosing a high-fiber breakfast such as a whole-grain cereal or fiber-enriched yogurt. If you’re a baker, swap out the all-purpose flour for whole-grain flour. Finally, fresh fruits and raw vegetable make delicious high-fiber snacks.
The next time you cook a meal, make sure to introduce at least one high-fiber food to tap the many health benefits of fiber.