A lot of hype surrounds the dilemma of including more fiber in your diet. High fiber diet products, cereals, powders and breakfast bars abound at the grocery store. A doctor may have recommended eating oatmeal, salads or whole grains as a means of increasing your fiber intake. But how does fiber actually help you?
How Fiber Reduces Cholesterol
Fiber is insoluble, which means it does not completely break down like other foods you eat. Even though you don’t get vitamins, minerals or calories out of fiber, it does not mean fiber is useless. To the contrary! Because fiber does not dissolve completely, it acts as a sponge, absorbing and removing undesirable substances such as cholesterol.
The liver produces bile, a digestive fluid composed of cholesterol which breaks down fat. After bile has served its purpose, it remains in your digestive tract until fiber comes along. As fiber moves through your intestines and colon it absorbs the bile and carries it out of your body as waste. When bile leaves the body, this signals the liver to synthesize more bile. The liver pulls excess cholesterol out of your blood stream in order to make new bile. Additionally, the liver uses “bad” LDL cholesterol to produce bile. Therefore, eating fiber reduces unhealthy cholesterol in the body. This is why your doctor asks you to have a bowl of high fiber oatmeal for breakfast.
How Fiber Reduces Your Risk of Cancer and Diverticulitis
Not only does fiber sweep bad cholesterol out of your body, it also helps keep your intestinal tract clean and running smoothly. The cells which line your intestinal tract have a short life span, lasting only a few days. When the cells die, they need to be removed or else your intestinal tract becomes clogged. A build up of dead cells in the intestinal tract leads to diverticulitis and colon cancer.
Luckily, eating foods which contain fiber help to remove dead cells. Fiber gently exfoliates the sides of the digestive tract, brushing out dead cells. So keep your digestive system clean by eating fiber, which will lower your risk of cancer and digestive dysfunction.
The Best Way To Get Fiber In Your Diet
Ideally, fiber should come from whole foods such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Our current health model tries to break down useful aspects of plants, synthesize them into dosages and dole them out for a fee. For instance, lots of money is made off of fiber bars and high fiber supplements. However, when you take a pill instead of eating real food you lose out on the wonderful benefits of a balanced diet. Vegetables and whole grains have a wealth of vitamins which are necessary for healthy bodily processes. Whole foods contain antioxidants and phytochemicals which prevent cancer and inflammation. The calories from vegetables and whole grains are energy dense and filling. The more real food you make a point of eating, the less junk you will have room for in your diet.
Excellent Sources of Fiber
oatmeal, whole wheat, whole corn, quinoa, brown rice
whole grain pastas, breads and cereals
potatoes with the skin on
beans, lentils, legumes, edamame
apples, oranges, pears, bananas
any fruit, vegetable or whole grain