Find out how dietary fiber can help you stay full and manage your weight so you can feel your best.
By Adam B. Gorelick, MD, Gastroenterology, Nuvance Health
Fiber has many health benefits from lowering your cholesterol to preventing constipation. One major health benefit of including fiber in your diet is that it can help manage your weight. We have all heard that eating fiber is important, but how does it all work?
What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber is primarily in fruits and vegetables. Common sources of dietary fiber include beans, legumes and whole grains such as oats. Fiber is the part of a plant-based food that your body cannot digest. You might have heard it referred to as “roughage”. Your body cannot fully break down fiber, unlike carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Fiber remains intact partially as it passes through your digestive system. It helps normalize bowel movements by adding bulk and softening stool while keeping waste moving through your digestive tract.
There are two types of fiber, soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Both types of fiber have different benefits for your body including helping to maintain a healthy weight.
- Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that dissolves in water. When soluble fiber makes its way into the stomach, it reacts with gastrointestinal fluids and forms a gel-like substance that your body can digest. Soluble fiber is in whole grains such as oats, barley and psyllium. In addition to whole grains, soluble fiber is in fruits and vegetables such as apples, citrus, peas and beans. Including soluble fiber in your diet can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.
- Insoluble fiber is a type of fiber that enables the movement of waste through your digestive system. Insoluble fiber also helps to add bulk to stool, which in return prevents constipation. Including insoluble fiber in your diet also helps to reduce the risk of developing intestinal blockages, hemorrhoids, and colorectal cancer.
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The increased popularity of weight loss medications has caused shortages of these drugs across the globe. These popular drugs contain semaglutide, a type of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor that can also treat type 2 diabetes.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, weight loss drugs imitate the function of GLP-1, which is a hormone your body releases in your gastrointestinal tract when you eat. The GLP-1 hormone tells your body to produce more insulin, which reduces glucose (sugar) levels in your blood. When more GLP-1 is present in your body, it also interacts with parts of your brain that signal to reduce your appetite and tell you that you feel full.
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, there are plenty of foods that contain fiber and cause your body to produce naturally GLP-1, which imitate the effects of semaglutide drugs. Researchers found fiber-rich oatmeal, cereal, almonds, pistachios and peanuts increased fullness, decreased hunger and decreased the desire to want to eat more.
How does fiber help you lose weight?
Consuming fiber may help you lose weight because fiber-rich foods can make you feel fuller longer. Fiber-dense foods also tend to have other health benefits and fewer calories. Feeling full can help prevent overeating and lead to maintaining a healthy weight by not eating more calories than you are burning.
Eating fiber and maintaining a healthy weight can have many of the following important health benefits:
- Helping with digestive health issues like diverticulitis, constipation and hemorrhoids
- Reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Regulating high blood pressure
- Preventing type 2 diabetes
- Reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.
Tips on how to incorporate fiber in your diet.
Here are some easy ways to incorporate more fiber into your diet:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eat fiber-dense fruits and vegetables, including raspberries, pears, bananas, oranges and strawberries — all great sources of fiber.
- Choose whole grains like whole-wheat, which are an excellent source of fiber. Try using whole-wheat spaghetti or pasta instead of white. Other whole grains that contain lots of fiber are barley, bran flakes, quinoa, oat bran or oatmeal, popcorn and brown rice.
- Munch on legumes, beans, nuts and seeds more frequently. Enjoy a bowl of split pea soup, or brown rice and beans. One cup of split peas contains 16.0 grams of fiber! Nuts, such as almonds and pistachios are also a good source of fiber, as are sunflower kernels, which contain three grams of fiber per ounce.
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How much fiber do I need?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, dietary fiber recommends adults consume 28 grams per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet. However, should speak with your doctor to determine how much fiber you need based on your actual diet.
Fiber supplements such as inulin, psyllium and methylcellulose are convenient daily alternatives to fruits and vegetables. One drawback of daily fiber supplements is that they lack the many vitamins, minerals and nutrients found in natural fruits and vegetables.
Although supplements are convenient to use, always speak with your doctor about ways to incorporate more natural fiber sources into your diet such as fruits, vegetables and grains. If your doctors determine you would benefit from a fiber supplement, they can help you make an informed decision about what type of supplement might be right for you.
The bottom line: Fiber is an important part of your overall health and a great way to help manage your weight because it helps you feel full longer. It also pulls waste from your digestive system. Fiber comes from multiple plant-based sources such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. In addition to weight management, fiber can ease constipation and help reduce the risk of digestive health diseases like colorectal cancer. Go ahead and eat apples, beans and whole grains today!
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