Why is fiber good for you?
February is American Heart Month so now is the perfect time to incorporate a heart-healthy nutrient into your day - fiber!
What is fiber?
Fiber is the structural part of plant-based foods that you cannot digest or break down, yet it promotes health benefits throughout many systems in your body, including your heart. Foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes all contain fiber.
There are two types of fiber - soluble and insoluble - and they work differently in the body.
- Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that can slow the passage of food through the digestive tract. It is found in dried beans and peas, lentils, oats, citrus fruits, and the soft parts of some fruits and vegetables.
- Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water but bulks up the stool and may help alleviate constipation. It is found in whole grains, nuts, corn, berries, cauliflower, and the peels of some fruits and vegetables.
Both types of fiber are important to include in a healthy diet. Research shows that soluble fiber can lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol, and improve blood pressure, especially in those with hypertension.
Both types of fiber help to slow the absorption of sugar and improve blood sugar levels, which may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Finally, fiber may help achieve a healthy weight by keeping you feeling full longer.
How much fiber do you need?
For children ages 3-18, use the equation age + 5 to determine how many grams of fiber they should be getting every day. For example, an 8-year-old should be getting approximately 13 grams per day. For adults, aim for 20-30 grams of dietary fiber per day.
It is important to increase your fiber intake slowly and to balance it with increased water intake to avoid potential adverse effects such as constipation, gas, and bloating; however, with proper introduction, you can be well on your way to better heart health this month and beyond.