Consuming healthy amounts of dietary fiber can be preventive for many conditions.
Having a diet rich in dietary fiber will prove beneficial for both gastrointestinal (GI) and cardiovascular health. This includes constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticular disease, vascular disease, hyperlipidemia (high fat in the blood) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
What is Dietary Fiber?
Dietary fibers are plant components that humans can eat but not digest (break down). For example, certain carbohydrates such as starches are broken into their sugar components once in the body. These sugars can then be used for energy production or stored in the body as fat and/or glycogen.
On the other hand, fibers are carbohydrates that cannot be broken down into simpler components. For this reason, fibers cannot be used for energy production and do not contribute to the caloric content of foods. The fibers work to clear out the intestines and help regulate setpoints like blood sugar in the body.
Soluble vs Insoluble Fibers
This is the type that dissolves in water. The majority of benefits pertaining to this type are in circulatory and vascular health. Having appropriate amounts of soluble fiber helps control blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by promoting vascular health. Consequently, these diets control body weight by being rich in nutrients and low in calories.
This type does not dissolve in water. This type has a cleansing effect in the digestive tract. As a result, it promotes the smooth flow of food through the GI tract, prevents constipation, and helps control inflammation.
This type is especially important for individuals with a positive family history for colorectal cancers. Similarly, a diet rich in fiber may also lower an individual’s risks for many other cancer types. Finally, individuals with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and diverticular disease can also benefit from insoluble fiber (1).
Sources of Fiber:
- Grains (like oats, watch out for added sugar!)
- Whole Grain Bread
- Beans, nuts, & seeds
Fiber as Preventative Medicine
People who consume higher levels of fiber tend to have fewer health problems because fiber is usually being consumed with a complex of other nutrients (such as in berries) that elicit health benefits of their own.
Type 2 diabetes:
Diabetes is a condition characterized by insulin resistance. This causes the body to not react as it should to the hormone insulin. Because insulin promotes the use and storage of blood sugar by body tissues, this leads to high blood sugar.
Because it helps control blood sugar levels in the bloodstream, a high fiber diet can be beneficial to diabetics and pre-diabetics alike. It can be preventive as well as therapeutic.
Soluble fiber can help lower fatty acids levels in the blood and slow the synthesis of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. This is very significant in preventing heart disease, which typically a result of vascular damage magnified by high LDL cholesterol deposition in the vascular lining.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains all are good sources of nutrients and are typically low in calories. Because these take longer to digest and regulate blood sugar, they affect hunger. As a result, the longer the food takes to digest the longer one feels “full.” The control of blood sugar release (glycemic index), can prevent hunger episodes triggered by a sudden drop in blood sugar that results from insulin spikes.
It helps regular bowel movements, which is especially important to individuals with IBS, diverticular disease, hemorrhoids, or risk for colorectal cancer. The fiber works to clean out the intestines and opposes constipation.
Digestive Health Team. “Should You Avoid Fiber If You Have Diverticulitis?” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 27 June 2017, health.clevelandclinic.org/should-patients-with-diverticulitis-avoid-or-up-their-fiber/.