If you’ve been lying awake at night worrying about fiber, you may be overthinking it. But if you never think about fiber at all, you may be one of the 90%-95% of Americans who lacks this essential nutrient and has related medical conditions to show for it.
At Northside Gastroenterology Associates in Houston and Cypress, Texas, Dr. Ayub Hussain and our team want our patients to understand the importance of dietary fiber in their daily diets so they can prevent certain diseases and optimize their health. Here’s what you need to know.
Dietary fiber explained
Some call it bulk, others call it roughage, but regardless of the name you use, it refers to the components in your food that don’t break down in your digestive tract like others do. Your body processes fats, carbohydrates, and proteins and absorbs them, but fiber goes through your system relatively unchanged.
There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and creates a gel-like substance.
Insoluble fiber stays intact and adds bulk to your stools, which can help it move along.
How much fiber is enough?
Dietary needs vary from person to person, and Dr. Hussain can give you specific numbers based on your health, age, and other factors. But generally speaking, accepted guidelines suggest that men under the age of 50 should try to get about 38 grams of dietary fiber every day, and women under 50 should shoot for around 25 grams.
After age 50, you don’t need as much. Men can lower their daily fiber intake to 30 grams, and women to 21 grams.
High-fiber foods are readily available and probably already part of your daily diet. But if you’re experiencing health issues related to inadequate fiber, you can make sure you get enough by increasing your consumption of:
- Peas, beans, and legumes
- Whole-grain foods
- Seeds and nuts
Processed and refined ingredients, such as enriched white flour, which is used to make many breads and pastas, is very low in dietary fiber.
The same is true for processed and canned fruits and vegetables. Fresh whole produce and grains are your best bet for high dietary fiber.
Health benefits of fiber-rich foods
Now that you know what dietary fiber is, how much you need, and where to find it, let’s take a look at what fiber can do for you.
1. Fiber keeps you regular
If you’ve ever been constipated, you know the discomfort and frustration that come from a low-fiber diet. Switching to higher-fiber foods not only bulks up your stool so you have enough to pass, it also softens it so the journey is easier.
On the flip side, if you suffer from watery stools, fiber’s bulking properties can correct the imbalance and normalize your bowel movements.
2. Fiber helps prevent bowel problems
When your bowels aren’t functioning properly, you’re at a higher risk for several bowel health problems, including:
If a low-fiber diet leads to these complications, you may experience a variety of symptoms from abdominal pain to anal pain and changes in your stool. Dr. Hussain performs exploratory and diagnostic tests, such as an endoscopy or colonoscopy, to get a look inside your gastrointestinal system and determine an accurate diagnosis so he can begin treatment and restore your health.
3. Fiber controls your blood sugar levels
If you have diabetes, you need all the help you can get managing your blood sugar levels, and a diet full of fiber-rich foods can do the trick. Foods that contain insoluble fiber — think cauliflower, potatoes, green beans, and nuts — can put the breaks on sugar absorption so your levels stay steady.
4. Fiber can lower your cholesterol
You have two types of cholesterol in your blood: “good” and “bad.”
Bad cholesterol, also called low-density lipoprotein (LDL), builds up in your arteries and puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.
Good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), carries away your LDLs, which lowers your risk for these diseases.
Soluble fiber — the type found in oats, flaxseed, and bran — lowers your LDL levels and thus your risk for heart health issues.
5. Fiber can help you lose weight
Being overweight or obese endangers your health by increasing your chances of heart disease, joint disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, diabetes, and many other conditions.
If you’ve been struggling to reach a healthy weight, adding more fiber to your diet may help because it makes you feel full faster, which means you eat less and stay satisfied longer.
Bonus: High-fiber foods contain fewer calories than the same portion size of low-fiber fiber foods.
To find out how fiber can improve your health, schedule an appointment with Dr. Hussain by calling either of our two Texas locations or booking online today.