When we think of the benefits of including fiber in our diet, many of us assume it is only to help move things through our digestive system. But its benefits go far beyond that. In fact, eating a fiber-rich diet is beneficial for both your digestive system as well as your heart health! Amazing, right?
Before we get into the specifics of these benefits, it’s important to understand what exactly fiber is, so let us explain.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that comes from plant-based foods that your body cannot break down. While your body breaks most types of carbohydrates down into sugar molecules, that’s not the case with fiber. This particular type of carbohydrate is able to pass through your body undigested, which is what allows it to have such a strong impact on digestive health.
There are about seven different types of fiber, which we’ll explore in just a minute, and they can be even further sorted into two categories—soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
- Soluble Fiber: Fibers in this category dissolve in water and tend to be the best when it comes to heart health. They are found in oats, beans, blueberries and so much more.
- Insoluble Fiber: Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water, which makes it the better option to help keep things flowing in your digestive system. It is highly available in brown rice, tomatoes, legumes, and wheat.
Even though fiber can be found in a large variety of foods, the average American doesn’t consume enough fiber on a daily basis. In fact, only 5% of the adult population gets their daily recommended intake, which is between 21 and 38 grams a day. If you’re not in that 5%, you’re likely missing out on some important health benefits for both your gut and heart.
Fiber For Your Gut
Many people choose to eat a fiber-rich diet mainly to help regulate the digestive system, and as you may well know, it can be particularly useful when it comes to relieving constipation. The fiber found in oats and wheat-based food is especially great for this since they don’t dissolve in water. Instead, they tend to absorb water as they pass through the digestive tract, helping waste pass more quickly and comfortably through your system.
Relieving constipation isn’t the only benefit that fiber carries for your gut health. It’s also a great food source for all those good bacteria living in your gut microbiome. Let’s back up and take a second to break this down.
Your gut microbiome is home to trillions of bacteria, and they all play an important role in regulating your gut health. In general, we place the different bacteria in your gut into one of two categories: friendly, good bacteria, or harmful, bad bacteria. While the composition of everyone’s gut microbiome is unique, we all do have one thing in common—our digestive system functions better when the good bacteria outnumber the bad. After all, these good bacteria have a number of important responsibilities, including keeping the harmful bacteria at bay, assisting with digestion and nutrient absorption, and even regulating the immune system.
Needless to say, it’s important to foster a large colony of good bacteria in your gut microbiome. One of the best ways you can do that is by providing those bacteria with the food they need to thrive, and fiber is one of those foods. As we mentioned earlier, the human body doesn’t have the ability to break down dietary fiber; however, that isn’t the case for the bacteria in your gut. The cells that make up those microscopic organisms are equipped with a special type of enzyme that can digest these fibers. This means that eating a fiber-rich diet not only leads to more comfortable digestion but will also support the colonies of good bacteria in your gut microbiome, which ultimately leads to improvements in other areas of your health as well.
Fiber For Your Heart
The benefits of dietary fiber can be felt beyond your digestive system. This is particularly true for your heart. Scientists are still uncovering exactly how fiber works in the body when it comes to your heart, but they have uncovered that a high-fiber diet may help with the regulation of things like cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure.
In addition to that, including fiber in your diet can be helpful for maintaining a healthy weight. Foods that are high in fiber tend to be more filling and have fewer calories than low-fiber foods. This means that including high-fiber foods in your diet can help you eat less and stay full longer, which makes them a great tool when it comes to weight management. And as you already know, maintaining a healthy weight can have a ripple effect, helping the rest of your body, especially your heart, stay strong and healthy.
Types Of Fiber For Your Health
As we mentioned earlier, there are seven different types of dietary fiber, and they are all great for your overall wellbeing. Here’s a quick breakdown.
- Cellulose: As an insoluble fiber, cellulose is great for promoting comfortable digestion. It attracts and retains water, which can help waste move through your digestive tract with ease. Cellulose is found in the cell walls of many plants, and some of the best sources include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and legumes.
- Pectins: Your gut bacteria are able to quickly metabolize this soluble fiber. Through this process, the fiber is converted into short-chain fatty acids that are then absorbed into your bloodstream, which allows it to be utilized by other areas of your body, like your heart. Additionally, the fact that your gut bacteria can quickly metabolize pectins means that including them in your diet is great for appetite control—you’ll feel full faster and stay satisfied longer. You can find it in fruits like apples, strawberries, nuts, and citrus foods.
- Beta-Glucans: This is another soluble fiber that your gut bacteria love. It is responsible for slowing down how fast food leaves our bodies. We know this doesn’t sound like a good thing, but we assure you it is. A slowed-down rate of digestion gives your body ample time to break down food and absorb nutrients. Not only does this mean you’ll feel full longer, but it can also help in keeping certain nutrients, like sugars, from entering your system too quickly. Beta-glucans can be found in foods like barley, oats, peas, oranges, and mushrooms (especially reishi, maitake, and shiitake).
- Inulin: Another type of fiber that gut bacteria love is inulin. This soluble fiber is a favorite food source of good gut bacteria, which means that including plenty of it in your diet is a great way to support and grow colonies of these friendly bacteria. Similar to beta-glucan, inulin can also help slow digestion and curb appetite. Bananas, asparagus, onions, and garlic are some of the perfect sources of this type of fiber.
- Resistant Starch: Although technically classified as a starch, resistant starch earns a spot on this list because it operates more like a fiber in the digestive tract. When consumed, resistant starch ferments and helps your gut microbiome stay in balance by keeping harmful bacteria at bay. You can find it in green bananas, beans, and legumes.
- Psyllium: This insoluble fiber is particularly beneficial for both digestive and heart health, as it helps promote regular digestion and bowel movements as well as healthy cholesterol levels. It is mostly available in psyllium seeds which can be sourced in high fiber cereals.
- Lignin: Just like cellulose, lignin is found in the cell walls of plants. This insoluble fiber promotes healthy digestion and helps ensure that harmful toxins are moved through the digestive tract and out of your body in a timely manner. You can get it from nuts, seeds (like flaxseed), cauliflower, green beans, whole wheat foods, avocados, and green bananas.
Embrace the Benefits of Fiber
Fiber is the perfect companion for both your gut and heart. It helps promote healthy digestion, a balanced gut microbiome, and a strong and healthy heart. What’s even better is that adding more fiber to your diet is as easy as increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables! So go ahead, mix up a yummy smoothie bowl loaded with your favorite fruits, or roast some veggies with your favorite herbs and spices. However you choose to increase your fiber intake, your body will thank you for it.
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