It used to be that getting more fiber in the diet was only an issue for older adults. However, in the last few decades research has shown benefits of a high-fiber diet for all ages. Studies also show that most Americans don’t get enough (in fact, we get about half of what’s recommended). Why should we all be concerned? Fiber helps you lose weight. When you eat fibrous foods nerves in your stomach called “stretch receptors” send a message to the brain that you’re full. In turn, less food is consumed.
One study showed that participants who consumed a small, low-calorie green salad before their meal ended up eating 7% less than those without the pre-meal salad. Fiber also slows the digestion of meals, so you feel satisfied longer after you’ve eaten. Even more, fibrous foods tend to be low in calories. Imagine eating two whole cups of broccoli—an amount that would keep most people full— but at a cost of only about 62 calories. That same 62 calories would only give you three-fourths of one Reese’s peanut butter cup. Or one bite of a McDonald’s hamburger, or one packet of McDonald’s Hot Mustard Sauce. Get the idea?
Since over two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, filling up on fiber instead of refined carbohydrates may help lower the bathroom scale reading. Fiber helps lower cholesterol. The American Heart Association diet recommendations include a high fiber diet due to its ability to lower cholesterol. A large number of studies show certain fibers help lower blood lipids that can damage our arteries and lead to cardiovascular disease. It works by binding to cholesterol in the blood and excreting it out of the body. Fiber helps lower blood sugar.
For those with or without diabetes, fiber helps slow the absorption of glucose in the body by entrapping sugar and carrying it out of the body, according to the National Fiber Council. This in turn causes less insulin to be produced, which also lowers glucose absorption and aids in weight control. Fiber keeps your gut healthy. By providing the small and large intestines with roughage, food contents move through with more ease. Also, some fiber types such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) produce a beneficial compound in the colon when fermented by friendly gut bacteria (such as lactobacillus). It may also help to reduce or prevent other digestive system conditions, such as diverticular disease and hemorrhoids.
Fiber carries “additional health benefits,”according to the American Dietetic Association. In their position statement, the ADA notes that a high fiber diet is usually concomitantly rich in vitamins, minerals and nonnutritive ingredients. While the jury is still out on fiber’s role in cancer prevention, The National Cancer Institute, Institute of Medicine and other large health organizations recommend a diet high in fiber-rich foods. The current recommendation for daily fiber intake is 20-35 grams per day.