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Why Do We Need Fiber in Our Diet?

By Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

Fiber is the part of foods that the body cannot digest or absorb. Found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, fiber has many health benefits, such as decreasing the risk of heart disease and aiding in digestive health. Therefore, it is important to consume fiber-rich foods every day to improve the length and quality of life.

About Fiber

Two types of fiber are needed for overall health. Insoluble fiber, found in whole-wheat flour products, wheat bran, nuts and vegetables, increases stool bulk and promotes movement of food through the digestive system. Soluble fiber, found in oats, peas, beans, apples, carrots and citrus fruits, dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that slows absorption of food components, thus allowing the body to retain more nutrients.

Fiber Recommendations

The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams a day for men, which equates to about 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. This recommended daily intake can easily be achieved through regular consumption of whole grains and beans, as well as two to three servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

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Fiber Health Benefits

Increased consumption of fiber can improve many aspects of health. Fiber-rich foods such as whole-grain breads and cereals help to increase stool bulk, which helps to prevent constipation. In addition, fiber increases bowel integrity and function, thus minimizing the risk of conditions such as hemorrhoids and diverticulitis. Fruits, vegetables and legumes that contain soluble fiber have been found to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels and slow the absorption of sugar in the body, which in turn can decrease the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Fiber can also facilitate weight loss. Because of its bulking quality, fiber can make you feel full and prevent overconsumption of calories during meals and snack times.

Research on Fiber Benefits

A 2011 study reported by the National Institutes of Health found that those who consumed higher amounts of fiber over a nine-year period had a significantly less chance of dying from chronic disease than those who consumed less fiber. Fiber consumption of study participants ranged from 12.6 grams to 29.4 grams per day in men and from 10.8 grams to 25.8 grams per day in women. Those who consumed the most fiber each day had a 22 percent lower risk of death over the nine-year period than those who consumed the least amount of fiber.

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