Did you know that fiber offers high nutritional value and is an important factor in maintaining a healthy diet? Believe it or not, foods high in dietary fiber can aid in the prevention of certain illnesses and diseases.
So what exactly is fiber? Dietary fiber, also known as roughage, includes all parts of plant foods that your body is unable to digest. Unlike carbohydrates, fats and proteins, fiber is not digested by the body and passes almost intact through the digestive system.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble fiber dissolves in water and creates a substance similar to gel. This kind of fiber helps lower cholesterol and glucose levels and is found in foods like oats, barley, peas, beans, apples and citrus fruits.
- Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through the digestive system and increases stool bulk, which can benefit people who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. If you’re concerned about your stool, you can find more information about it here. Insoluble fiber is found in foods like whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables like cauliflower and potatoes.
What Illnesses Can Fiber Help Prevent?
1. Heart Disease
Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in America, and a high fiber diet aids in lowering cholesterol. Research shows that women can reduce their risk of heart disease by 82 percent and men can reduce their risk by 79 percent by leading a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy, fiber-rich diet can improve the condition of your heart. Choosing a variety of grains, especially whole grains, as well as fruit and vegetables, can lessen your chance of heart disease.
2. Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is one of the most dangerous cancers for both men and women. About one in 20 men and women will develop colon or rectal cancer in their lifetime. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 26,300 men and 24,530 women died in 2013 from colon cancer. People with an increased risk of colon cancer should make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are high in fiber and antioxidants, play a role in cancer prevention.
Diabetes refers to a group of diseases that affect how the body uses sugar, specifically glucose. Glucose is crucial to your health because it is the primary source of energy for cells that make up muscles and tissue. Fiber does not raise blood glucose levels since it is not broken down by the body and is not digested. A fiber-rich diet including a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibers, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, can significantly improve blood glucose control and reduce cholesterol levels.
4. Chronic Constipation
Chronic constipation is infrequent bowel movements or the difficulty of passing stools that persists for a duration of several weeks or longer. Someone who has fewer than three bowel movements a week is considered to have chronic constipation. Adding fiber to your daily diet increases the weight of your stool, which allows the stool to speed up its passage through the intestines. Your doctor may recommend a specific number of grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories in your daily diet.
5. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders of the digestive tract and affects between 10-20 percent of Americans. There is no known cure for IBS, but relieving your symptoms begins with modifying the foods you eat. With the approval of your doctor, females should incorporate 25 grams of fiber daily into their diet and men should include 38 grams daily.
Hemorrhoids are inflamed blood vessels in your anus or lower rectum that can be painful, itchy and sometimes bleed. The best way to prevent hemorrhoids is to keep your stool soft. This can be accomplished by eating a high-fiber diet with more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and will help to soften stool and increase its bulk. Fibers that soften the stool will help prevent the strain that creates hemorrhoids or worsen existing hemorrhoids.
7. Fecal Incontinence
Fecal incontinence, otherwise known as bowel control problem, is the accidental passing of solid or liquid stool or mucus from the rectum. About one in 12 people in America suffer from fecal incontinence, and although anyone can suffer from a bowel control problem, it’s most common amongst adults. Eating the right amount of fiber can help with constipation or diarrhea associated with fecal incontinence. Another common way to treat fecal incontinence is through consumption of fiber supplements. These supplements can be found in pharmacies or health sections of retail establishments.
8. Duodenal Ulcer
Ulcers are open sores that occur on the inside lining of the esophagus, stomach and the upper portion of the small intestine. Duodenal ulcers are located on the inside of the upper part of the small intestine. Vitamin and fiber rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains help the body heal the ulcer.
9. Dumping Syndrome
Dumping syndrome occurs when food, mainly sugar, moves too quickly from the stomach to the small intestine. Symptoms of dumping syndrome include nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhea and are most likely to occur in individuals who have had surgery to remove all or part of their stomach or have undergone a gastric bypass surgery. Eating five to six small, fiber-rich meals a day, specifically focused on grains, and eliminating sugars such as table sugar, candy, soda and juice will aid in the prevention or treatment of dumping syndrome.
10. Diverticular Disease
Diverticula are small, bulging pouches that form in the lining of the digestive system and are often found in the colon. Though diverticula seldom causes problems, they can become infected or inflamed and lead to severe abdominal pain, nausea, constipation or diarrhea. By consuming four to six tablespoons of coarse wheat bran a day, you can soften waste material and help it pass through the colon more quickly to reduce the pressure on your digestive track.
11. Weight Gain
Maintaining a diet high in fiber aids in achieving a healthy weight. Foods that are high in fiber tend to require more chewing, which gives your body time to register that you’re no longer hungry. By giving your body time to register, you’re less likely to overeat. A high-fiber meal tends to feel larger and allows you to stay full for a longer period of time, while consuming fewer calories.
How Much Fiber Does A Person Need?
The amount of fiber needed in a diet differs between men, women, children and infants.
- When an infant begins solid food around six or nine months, fiber rich food can be introduced.
- 1-3 years of age require 19 grams daily
- 4-8 years of age require 25 grams daily
- 9-13 years of age require 31 grams daily
- 14-50 years of age require 38 grams daily
- 50 + years of age require 30 grams daily
- 9-18 years of age require 26 grams daily
- 19-50 years of age require 25 grams daily
- 50 + years of age require 21 grams daily
The Importance Of Fiber In A Child’s Diet
Fiber in a child’s diet is crucial to keeping them healthy and active. If a child suffers from constipation, gradually introducing whole grains, fruits and vegetables daily into their diet can alleviate constipation. A fiber-rich diet can also control weight gain in children. Fiber-rich food requires children to take more time to chew it, making them feel full quicker, and causing them to eat less.
How Can I Get My Kids To Eat Fiber?
Fiber doesn’t have to taste yucky! Substitute whole-grain flour for white flour when baking cookies or muffins and your children will never know the difference. Another option for kids who aren’t a fan of eating vegetables is to blend them up in the food processor and add them to spaghetti sauce served with whole grain pasta. Is it movie night at your household? Serve low-fat popcorn which is a good source of fiber.
Do You Think You Could Benefit From A High Fiber Diet?
If you believe you are at risk for any of the illnesses listed above or you’re unsure how to incorporate fiber into your diet, talk to your doctor at UnityPoint Clinic about consuming fiber as part of your daily routine or message your care team through MyUnityPoint to address your health concerns.