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Fiber: Its Importance In Your Diet

What Are The Health Benefits Of Fiber?

Last updated on:
22/03/2012

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Fiber is helpful to the body in many ways:

Avoiding And Relieving Constipation

Fiber can absorb large amounts of water in the bowels, and this makes stools softer and easier to pass. Anyone starting a higher-fiber diet will notice the difference in stool bulk.

  • In almost all cases, increasing fiber in the diet will relieve constipation within hours or days.
  • Because stools are easier to pass, less straining is necessary, and this can help relieve hemorrhoids.

Need To Know:

Constipation can have other causes, however, so you should consult your doctor if it is not relieved by increased fiber.

Nice To Know:

On average, it takes 39 hours in women and 31 hours in men for food to pass through the colon and out of the body. This time varies a lot from person to person, depending on personality, state of mind, and fiber intake. Usually, the effect of fiber is to speed up this process.

Preventing Certain Diseases

Getting enough fiber in the diet can lower the risk of developing certain conditions:

  • Heart disease. Evidence is now growing to support the notion that foods containing soluble fiber (such as oats, rye barley, and beans) can have a positive influence on cholesterol, triglycerides, and other particles in the blood that affect the development of heart disease. Some fruits and vegetables (such as citrus fruits and carrots) have been shown to have the same effect.
  • Cancer. The passage of food through the body is speeded up when fiber is eaten. Some experts believe this may prevent harmful substances found in some foods from affecting the colon and may protect against colon cancer. (However, a recent study conducted by Harvard University concluded that eating high-fiber food did not appear to protect people from colon cancer.) Other types of cancer that are linked with overnutrition and may be prevented by a fiber-rich diet include breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer.
  • Diabetes. Adding fiber to the diet helps regulate blood sugar levels, which is important in avoiding diabetes. In addition, some people with diabetes can achieve a significant reduction in their blood sugar levels and may find they can reduce their medication.
  • Diverticular disease. Diverticular disease is a condition in which small pouches, called diverticula, develop in the wall of the colon. In a small percentage of people, these diverticula become inflamed or infected, a condition known as diverticulitis. Diverticular disease can cause pain, diarrhea, constipation, and other problems.
  • Gallstones and kidney stones. Rapid digestion leads to a rapid release of glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream. To cope with this, the body has to release large amounts of insulin into the bloodstream, and this can make a person more likely to develop gallstones and kidney stones (in addition to diabetes and high cholesterol).

For further information about diverticular disease, go to Diverticular Disease.

For further information about gallstones, go to Gallstones.

For further information about kidney stones, go to Kidney Stones.

Keeping Weight Under Control

Foods containing plenty of fiber have more bulk than low-fiber foods. If taken in the right form at the right time and at sufficient quantities, fiber can sometimes slow the onset of hunger.

Nice To Know:

To help control your weight with fiber:

  • Always try to take fiber in the natural form. For example, instead of sprinkling bran over your food, choose foods naturally high in fiber.
  • Avoid foods that have been made easier to eat and digest by removal of fiber, especially sugars (including fruit juices).
  • Choose foods that satisfy hunger without providing many calories, mainly vegetables and most fruits, which are rich in fiber.

Need To Know:

Some individuals claim that fiber alone can cause weight loss without the need to diet. But in fact, the only effective and safe way to lose weight is to:

  • Reduce calorie intake to a safe level
  • Get enough exercise to burn off excess calories

However, fiber can be a useful aid in reducing calorie intake.

 

 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.