Why is fiber important? 5 reasons
Fiber (or dietary fiber in full) is often a bit overlooked when putting together a healthy diet. Everyone knows that you should pay attention to calories, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. But fiber? That will be fine by itself, right? Well… not, it turns out. Research shows that no less than 90% of the Dutch do not meet the recommended amount of 30 to 40 grams of fiber. People simply forget to pay attention. Yet there are very good reasons to do so! We list them for you today.
What Are Fibers?
Fiber or dietary fiber is indigestible carbohydrates. They are only found in vegetable products, such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit. Nuts and seeds are also rich in fiber. You will not find them at all in animal products such as meat and dairy.
The special thing about fibers is that they are hardly absorbed by your body and that they are therefore excreted largely intact with your stool. For that reason, they provide hardly any calories, depending on the type of fiber.
You may expect that substances that pass through your body in this way may also be of little use. Yet that is incorrect in the case of dietary fiber. There are several ways in which these substances can significantly improve your general health, and especially the well-being of your intestines!
Why is fiber important?
How is that exactly? Below we explain where the main benefits of fiber come from.
Healthy bowel movements
Do you regularly suffer from constipation? Or from diarrhea? Many people in the Netherlands struggle with bad bowel movements but prefer not to talk about it. Good news: you can often achieve a lot of improvement yourself by eating a little more dietary fiber.
Fiber absorbs moisture in your intestinal tract. This prevents your stool from becoming too hard and getting ‘stuck’. It is of course important that you also continue to drink enough fluids, at least 1.5 liters per day. Do you have diarrhea? Then the sturdy structure of the fibers also ensures that your stool also becomes a bit firmer. For example, fibers are an important solution for surprisingly versatile problems.
Less chance of diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common lifestyle diseases that we see in the Netherlands today. The disease is caused by regular consumption of (too much) sugar. Every time your blood sugar level shoots up too far, your body receives a signal to produce insulin. However, if that happens too often, you become less and less sensitive to that signal. As a result, you produce less or no insulin at all and all those sugars are no longer removed from your blood. That can even be life-threatening!
If you want to avoid having to take diabetes medication, it is therefore important to avoid sugar spikes as much as possible. Fiber is a useful aid in this. Since they cannot be digested, they slow down the rate at which your body absorbs sugar. And that means that the sugar level in your blood rises much more gradually and becomes much less high.
Incidentally, fiber also reduces the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood vessels. This means that they can also reduce the risk of other cardiovascular diseases in the future!
Less hunger and binge eating
Especially people who want to lose weight often suffer from enormous hunger and insatiable eating habits. Sometimes they come back so often that they make weight loss almost impossible: after all, those who are hungry keep eating more and more calories.
You guessed it: dietary fiber is also ideal here. They already swell up a bit in the stomach and continue to do so in the intestines. This means that your body retains a feeling of satiety for longer so that it also takes longer before you have to eat something again.
And as said, fibers hardly provide any energy. So you can reduce your hunger without taking in extra calories. Perfect for weight loss!
Healthier intestinal flora
One type of fiber, the fermentable fiber, ferments – as the name suggests – in your intestinal tract. That may sound unpleasant, but it is actually very healthy. These fibers have a similar effect to fermented foods such as tempeh, fresh yogurt, and kimchi. All products that you may have seen as ‘superfoods’.
The reason such products are so praised is that fermentation is very good for your intestinal flora – the bacteria that live in your intestines. These bacteria are, among other things, important for good bowel movements: unhealthy intestinal flora can cause flatulence and nausea, for example.
Even more curious: there are even indications that your gut flora influences your mood. It turns out that certain bacteria, which thrive especially well on unhealthy food, can cause you to get more appetite for such food. They do this, for example, by producing substances that make you feel sad or anxious.
In short, healthy intestinal flora keep your body and your brain healthier. And fibers play an important role in this!
Less chance of colon cancer
A final advantage: people who eat a lot of dietary fiber are much less likely to develop colon cancer later in life. There are several reasons for this. One is that your digestion will run a little faster if you eat enough fiber. This means that harmful substances in your diet are less likely to actually cause problems in your intestines.
In addition, fibers can not only bind moisture but also some of those harmful substances. As a result, these substances are immediately removed, and can therefore not remain in your intestines to create damage there. This also means that you run less risk of the harmful cell mutations that can lead to cancer.
Not enough fiber?
Plenty of reasons to keep an eye on your fiber intake, in other words! Unfortunately, many people don’t have a good idea of the amount of fiber they eat. Still, there are a number of signs that you are getting too little fiber.
One of them is that you quickly feel hungry again after every meal. If you actually never feel completely full, a larger serving of dietary fiber can make a big difference!
Another sign is that you have intestinal problems. For example, you often have a bloated feeling, suffer from constipation or diarrhea. A more subtle signal: if your intestines are healthy, you have to do a ‘big errand’ about daily. Isn’t that the case with you? Even then it may be wise to pay more attention to your fiber intake.
Diet with a lot of fiber
As mentioned, you need an average of 30 to 40 grams of fiber per day to keep your intestines in optimal condition. That’s a lot: a whole-grain sandwich, for example, contains only 2.5 grams of fiber. So you won’t get there if you eat one healthy breakfast and leave it at that.
How do you get enough fiber? The simple answer: try to eat as much fiber as possible. The main food groups in that category are:
1. Whole grains
Whether you eat bread, pasta, rice, or another cereal product: the whole grain variety always contains a lot more fiber. By choosing this with every meal, you can already significantly increase your fiber consumption. Also, oatmeal and Brinta are fine options, such as a high-fiber breakfast.
Peas, lentils, and beans are all rich in fiber (and also contain tons of other beneficial substances, such as vegetable proteins, B vitamins, and minerals). Many people eat few legumes, and can therefore easily eat more fiber by cooking with it more often!
All vegetables contain fiber, but some are a bit richer than others. Tubers such as parsnips and carrots, for example, are very fiber-rich choices. Leafy vegetables such as spinach, endive, and kale are also easy to find. Broccoli is also a top product if you are looking for a high-fiber diet.
4. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are also full of fiber. Seeds such as chia seed and linseed are particularly popular as a fiber-rich addition to smoothies or yogurt, for example. Again, all nuts and seeds also contain many other useful substances: they are also rich in healthy omega 3 fats, which keep your heart and brain healthy.
If you consume two or more of these high-fiber foods every meal, you’ll soon find yourself on your way to reaching those 30 grams of fiber per day. And an additional advantage: you also immediately receive a mountain of vitamins and minerals, proteins, and healthy fats. This way you will not only make your intestines happy but also the rest of your body.