The Power of Fiber
Five benefits of a high-fiber diet
By Anne L. Fritz
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Fiber has long been known to promote good digestive health and regularity, but those are only two of the many benefits fiber offers. Consider that a study published in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutritionfound that people who ate a high-fiber diet of oats, barley, eggplant, okra, and other vegetables lowered their cholesterol by close to 30 percent after four weeks. In addition to improving digestive health and lowering cholesterol levels, a high-fiber diet can help you reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and keep your weight in check. Here's a closer look at each benefit.
Fiber and Digestion
As fiber passes through the stomach and intestines, it absorbs water, adding bulk to the stool. This promotes regularity and reduces constipation, says James Anderson, M.D., chair of the National Fiber Council. "Insoluble fiber, found in wheat bran, whole grains, and vegetables, speeds the passage of food through the stomach and intestines," he says. For more high-fiber foods, read Easy Ways to Add Fiber to Your Diet.
Fiber and Cholesterol
Fiber is undigested starch, says Dr. Anderson, and as such, it traps cholesterol and drags it out of the body through the digestive system. Soluble fiber, found in oat bran, barley, oranges, apples, carrots, and dried beans, turns into a gel during the digestive process and prevents cholesterol, fat, and sugars from being absorbed by the body.
Fiber and Heart Disease
"When it comes to heart health, the importance of fiber in your diet cannot be overstated," says Kathy Kastan, president of WomenHeart, the National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease.and the coauthor of WomenHeart'sAll Heart Family Cookbook.
Several studies have shown that fiber reduces the risk of heart disease. In addition to the above-mentioned cholesterol study in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study published in theJournal of the American College of Cardiology Foundationthat followed 39,876 women for six years found that those who ingested an average of 26.3 grams of fiber daily were at lower risk for developing heart disease or having a heart attack than those who ate less.
Fiber and Diabetes
A high-fiber diet may lower a person's risk for diabetes. Fiber slows the absorption of sugars, which can reduce glucose levels in the blood and prevent blood sugar spikes, says Dr. Anderson. Results of a study published in theArchives of Internal Medicinesuggest that whole-grain fiber (the kind found in some breakfast cereals, breads, and crackers) may be more beneficial in reducing blood sugar than fruits and vegetables.
Fiber and Weight Loss
Fiber expands in the stomach and intestines, which creates a feeling of fullness. This means that after eating a fiber-rich meal, you'll typically feel fuller longer and may eat less throughout the day. In addition, because soluble fiber turns into a gel in the stomach, it binds to sugars, cholesterol, and fats and carries them, largely unabsorbed, through the digestive tract, says Anderson.
What About Fiber and Colon Cancer?
Can a high-fiber diet help prevent colon cancer? It's still unknown. Early studies on fiber's ability to lower the risk of colon cancer were promising, and it seems logical to researchers that fiber may have protective properties against this cancer, but more recent studies have been inconclusive.
Last reviewed: September 23, 2008 | Last updated: September 23, 2008
This section created and produced exclusively by the editorial staff of EverydayHealth.com. © 2008 EverydayHealth.com; all rights reserved.
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