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By Emily Kirsch

6 Reasons Why Fiber is Essential for a Healthy Diet

Do we care about fiber as much as we care about calories? It seems not, and it's because most people don't read nutritional information panels (nutrition facts label) on food packaging with such enthusiasm when dietary fiber is concerned. Also, some labels don't offer information on fiber, or food containing them doesn't come with a label since they are naturally made. Otherwise, everybody would know that some of the tastiest foods are rich in fiber. And, perhaps, someone curious would do research and discover that fiber is essential for a healthy diet and, consequently, a fit lifestyle. Though, it's never too late to weave a truthful story about fiber. 

You can't even digest it, and yet…

It's true. Fiber is indigestible. But so are sand and gravel, and birds eat them to improve digestion. Just because something isn’t a nutrient that your body absorbs doesn't mean it's not vital for a healthy diet. And so it is with fiber. Did you know that there are two types of dietary fiber? One type is soluble in water and the other - isn't.

The first type of fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance. You will find viscous, soluble fiber in apples and citrus fruits, carrots, beans and peas, barley and oats, and psyllium (whose seeds have laxative properties, by the way). It helps reduce glucose levels and cholesterol.

Insoluble fiber will pass through your digestive system along with other foods, stimulating the movement of material in the process. This results in easier and more regular disposal of, let's say, byproducts of digestion.

Just think of fiber as your greatest ally in eliminating toxins from your digestive system and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. This makes it all the more important to include many high-fiber foods and eat all the right things to make your diet as varied as possible. 

#1 Renormalizes gut movement

The best-known role of fiber and often the only known benefit is that it helps your number twos be regular and smooth. Funny as that may sound, you're most likely painfully aware that constipation is no joke, nor is the slow torture on a toilet seat. By eating enough insoluble fiber, you will "clean the tunnel" from toxins.

#2 Helps maintain healthy levels of blood sugar

How does fiber do that? Although a carbohydrate, our bodies can't digest fiber as they digest other, refined carbohydrates, reducing them to sugar. As it's only passing through, fiber doesn't need insulin, nor will it cause a spike in blood sugar.

Moreover, fiber that dissolves in water slows the absorption of sugar, keeping blood glucose levels in check. By doing so, it staves off the development of type 2 diabetes. As insulin enables glucose storage for later use, with lower glucose levels, you will accumulate less fat. 

#3 Aids in attaining a healthy weight

Fiber is a must-have ingredient in weight-reducing diets, but it also helps maintain a healthy weight. It is entirely due to the ability of soluble fiber-rich foods to keep you satiated for longer, while at the same time having fewer calories. As you eat fiber, receptors in your stomach signal to the brain it's full.

Chewing slowly and thoroughly will break the cellulose shell of raw fruit and vegetables (think corn on the cob) and release nutrients within foods. As a result, you will feel full longer and get additional benefits from fiber-rich food. Moreover, if you consume foods containing an optimal amount of fiber, you will be able to resist weight gain even if the rest of your diet isn't fat-free. 

#4 Reduces cholesterol levels

Once again, soluble fiber comes to the rescue. This time, fiber is essential for a healthy diet as it's battling LDL or low-density lipoprotein, commonly known as bad cholesterol. And knowing that bad cholesterol is one of the main culprits of cardiovascular diseases, your odds of heart disease drop with a regular daily intake of at least 7 grams of fiber.

#5 Keeps your relationship with gut bacteria healthy

Maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship with your gut tenants, aka microbiome, aka helpful bacteria, is key to enjoying the benefits of a strong immune system. The only thing you need to do is eat sufficient fiber and drink enough water.

Bacteria living in symbiosis with the intestinal lining cells feed on fermented fiber and help you digest foods and produce vitamin B and K complexes. In the process, bacteria also produce short-chain fatty acids that reduce systemic inflammation.

#6 Reduces risk of cancer

According to The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), the recommended daily intake of dietary fiber reduces the risk of colorectal cancer. Remember those short-chain fatty acids that gut bacteria produce? Well, butyrate is one of those acids, and it is linked directly with the health of bowel cells.

Apart from having anti-inflammatory properties, this product of a healthy microbiome makes the development of tumors increasingly tricky. If you include whole grains in your nutritionally rich recipes, you will enjoy not only delicious but highly healthy food. Whole-wheat pizza, pasta, bread, whole-grain cereal, and brown rice are all welcome.

How much fiber is just right?

Eating too little fiber will increase your chance of constipation and developing hemorrhoids, but too much of it at once can cause abdominal cramping and pain, and intestinal gas. So, how much is sufficient? It depends on your age.

According to the U.S. Institute of Medicine, women are recommended 25 grams of fiber daily and men 38 grams until they turn fifty. Once in the sixth decade, women should lower their daily fiber intake to 21 grams and men to 30 grams.

Although fiber is essential for a healthy diet, you shouldn't exceed the recommended daily intake, especially as you get older. The advised amounts get lower because optimal calorie needs also decrease with age. In other words, due to fiber's trait to bind with sugar and fat molecules, you may inadvertently remove too much.