How Fiber Keeps Your Brain and Heart in Shape

Just about everyone knows that eating fiber is the key to keeping you, um… regular. But that is just one benefit of the food voted “Most Likely to Make a Middle Schooler Snicker.”

It’s true. High fiber foods make you poop. But they also make you feel full faster. That means you’re likely to eat less. And that means you’re less likely to pack on extra pounds!

And it’s those extra pounds that can lead to health problems later. Being overweight can lead to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious health problems.

Your body can’t break down fiber. As it moves through your body, it slows digestion. It keeps you regular by making your stools softer and easier to pass.

There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Both should be part of a healthy diet.

Soluble Fiber
This type of fiber attracts water—think of the way oats absorb water to turn into oatmeal. Soluble fiber turns into a gel during digestion. High-fiber foods that include soluble forms of fiber are oatmeal , nuts, apples, blueberries, seeds, lentils, peas, and beans, to name a few. (Check out this recipe for a yummy, high fiber kale and bean soup you can make in your slow cooker!)

Foods that contain high levels of soluble fiber also help lower cholesterol, a key risk factor for heart disease. It does that by attaching to cholesterol particles and sweeping them along as the fiber moves out of your body.

Fiber helps fight diabetes because your body doesn’t absorb foods that contain soluble fiber. So there are no blood sugar spikes that can put you at risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Finally, high fiber foods help keep you regular because they absorb water as they pass through your system. That helps bulk up your stool. In fact, fiber supplements generally contain mostly soluble fiber.

Insoluble Fiber
This type of fiber is found in the seeds and skins of fruit (so always eat those peels!) as well as vegetables and whole grains. It adds bulk to the stool and seems to help food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. If you’re irregular (constipated), consider eating more high fiber foods that contain insoluble fiber to get things moving. Insoluble fiber also can improve other bowel-related health problems, such as hemorrhoids and problems controlling your bowel movements.

How Much Fiber Do You Need?
Most Americans don’t eat enough high fiber foods, according to the Institute of Medicine. Women need 25 grams of fiber per day, but usually consume only 13 grams. Men need 38 grams per day but eat only about 17.
Try these tips for adding more high fiber foods to your diet:

  • Eat two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables per day. Beans, sweet potatoes, cauliflower and berries are ood sources of fiber.
  • Eat the peels of your apples and potatoes.
  • Eat whole, rather than refined grains. Choose whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal.
  • Check food labels. Look for foods with five grams of fiber or more per serving.

Remember, it’s not just how much fiber you’re eating that keeps you healthy, but what kinds of fiber you choose to eat. What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

Sources: The Mayo Clinic, U.S. National Library of Medicine, WebMD

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