Dietary fiber is a plant-based nutrient found in a wide variety of foods. “Fiber” is a broad term that encompasses several types of non-digestible carbohydrates that offer a diverse array of health benefits. In recent year, significant developments have been made in our understanding of fiber and its role in the promotion of health and disease risk reduction.
Fiber and human health
Dietary fiber first began to make health news when researchers observed that certain populations with a high fiber intake had lower rates of certain health conditions, including gastrointestinal issues, some types of cancer and heart disease. Dietary fiber consumption has been linked with a host of potential health benefits including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, hypertension, certain gastrointestinal conditions, obesity, metabolic dysfunctions like prediabetes and type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. Additionally, the benefits of dietary fiber may encompass other conditions and disease states, affecting all-cause mortality. The national Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study (a large prospective cohort study) validated that intake of dietary fiber, especially dietary fiber from cereal grains, is inversely associated with total death rates, specifically cardiovascular, infectious, and respiratory deaths in both men and women, and cancer deaths in men.
The impacts of dietary fiber on measures of weight management are not fully understood. Several mechanisms of actions have been suggested; however, much of the research into appetite, short- and long-term energy intake, and body weight has been completed in studies of individual isolated fibers, rather than whole foods or fiber blends.
Meals providing meaningful sources of dietary fiber tend to be processed more slowly by the body, contribute more volume compared with low-fiber meals and may produce a greater feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Additionally, high-fiber foods require more chewing and may take longer to eat, thus potentially limiting total energy intake. These qualities are believed to be involved in the relationship between dietary fiber intake and the control of energy balance and body weight. Higher intakes of dietary fiber are correlated with lower body weight and body mass index (DMI). Observational studies have found that populations with greater intakes of dietary fiber often have lower body weights and obese people have lower fiber intakes. Results from a 20-month prospective cohort study showed a 0.25 kg decrease in body weight with every additional gram of dietary fiber consumed.
Eating more fiber can help you lose weight, even if you don’t make other changes to your diet. Fiber is super-filling. You digest it more slowly than simple starches and sugars. Plus, dieters who were told to get at least 30 grams of fiber a day, but given no other dietary parameters, lost a significant amount of weight, found a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Not only is it great for keeping your appetite—and your weight—in check, fiber has loads of other health benefits. It’s heart-healthy, good for your gut health, can reduce your risk of diabetes and certain cancers and helps you poop on the regular. The only downside is, most of us aren’t getting the recommended amount of fiber. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends women eat least 25 grams of fiber each day (36 grams for men). Check out these 7 foods to get your fill.
A medium apple (3-inch diameter) contains 4 grams of fiber; a large apple (3¼-inch diameter) has 5. Apples also offer a bit of vitamin C and potassium.
- Green Beans
One cup boasts 4 grams of fiber, plus a healthy dose (30% daily value) of skin-helping vitamin C.
- Sweet Potatoes
A medium-size baked sweet potato, skin included, offers 5 grams of fiber—for just 103 calories. It’s also a nutrition powerhouse: providing 438% daily value of eye-healthy vitamin A\, 37% daily value of vitamin C, plus some potassium, vitamin E, iron, magnesium and phytochemicals like beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Raspberries are a great source of fiber. Just one cup of raspberries has 8 grams of fiber. Raspberries are also an excellent source of vitamin C.
One cup of strawberries has a respectable 3 grams of fiber and more than a full day’s recommended dose of vitamin C—an antioxidant that helps keep skin healthy.
Just 3/4 cup of chickpeas has a whopping 8 grams of fiber! You also get a good amount of vitamin B6 and folate, both of which play a role in forming healthy new cells.
A cup of cooked pumpkin contains 3 grams of fiber. You also get vitamin A (245% daily value), vitamins C, E and potassium.
Methods / Strategies to increase fiber intake
There are a few important steps to remember when working toward the goal recommendations for dietary fiber:
- Emphasize whole grains in place of refined grains. Aim for at least half of all grains to be whole grains.
- Include whole fruits and vegetables (not juices) at meals and snacks.
- Drink plenty of fluids while increasing fiber intake.
- Increase fiber intake gradually over time.