Fiber is more than just a tool to help you poop, it is a fantastic nutrient. Fiber (sometimes referred to as dietary fiber) is an edible nutrient that people can get from plant-based products. Strangely though, one of fiber’s principal features is that it is not digestible. So why then is it so useful? Shouldn’t I be trying to eat foods that provide me with sustenance? Interestingly, some of the best benefits of fiber aren’t what it gives you but rather what it prevents you from getting.
Types of Fiber
There are two main types of fiber, soluble and insoluble fiber. The “soluble” portion refers to whether fiber dissolves in water (i.e., if it breaks apart/disappears in water like salt does when it is put in water). Soluble fiber can be found in things like beans, nuts, lentils, blueberries, and oatmeal. It is specifically known for its ability to lower blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels, both of which are important factors in your health. Insoluble fiber can be found in stuff like whole wheat bread, whole grains, legumes, and some vegetables. Insoluble fiber is known for its ability to help promote regular bowel movements by helping food move through the digestive system.
Benefits of Fiber
Fortunately for fiber consumers, higher fiber intake is associated with a 40% lower risk of coronary heart disease (Rimm et. al., 1996). Benefits of insoluble fiber, specifically, are found in studies that show a higher consumption of insoluble fiber can lead to lower levels of intestinal inflammation (Aldoori et. al., 1998). Additionally, since fiber has the potential to reduce blood sugar, several studies have found that higher fiber consumption can lead to a lower risk of Type II diabetes (Fung et. al., 2002). Breast cancer is also shown to have a reduced impact for those with higher fiber diets (Farvid et. al., 2016). And, last but not least, fiber can decrease constipation.
Ways to Add More Fiber to Your Diet
- Add nuts to your cereal.
- Include some vegetables when you are snacking.
- Chose whole wheat bread for snacking.
- Add beans to your tacos/salads.
- Stir fruit into your yogurt.
- Enjoy nuts as a snack.
You shouldn’t read this blog and immediately run to the store and buy all the chia seeds, whole grains, quinoa, and high-fiber cereal that you can. What you should do though, is consider your diet, consider how you feel, and decide whether fiber is something that could be helpful for you. Start small, and if it works, you can definitely make fiber a more consistent part of your diet. Look for resources where you can (MSU has its own registered dietitian!!!) and make sure that this decision is what’s best for you. Good Luck!!
Jessica Peterson, MS, RD, CDCES, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist – MSU Bozeman
MSU Office of Health Advancement, 406-994-4380
Aldoori WH, Giovannucci EL, Rockett HR, Sampson L, Rimm EB, Willett WC. A prospective study of dietary fiber types and symptomatic diverticular disease in men. J Nutr. 1998 Apr;128(4):714-9. doi: 10.1093/jn/128.4.714. PMID: 9521633.
Farvid MS, Eliassen AH, Cho E, Liao X, Chen WY, Willett WC. Dietary Fiber Intake in Young Adults and Breast Cancer Risk. Pediatrics. 2016 Mar;137(3):e20151226. doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-1226. Epub 2016 Feb 1. PMID: 26908709; PMCID: PMC4771124.
Fung TT, Hu FB, Pereira MA, Liu S, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Willett WC. Whole-grain intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective study in men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Sep;76(3):535-40. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/76.3.535. PMID: 12197996.
Rimm EB, Ascherio A, Giovannucci E, Spiegelman D, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Vegetable, fruit, and cereal fiber intake and risk of coronary heart disease among men. JAMA. 1996 Feb 14;275(6):447-51. doi: 10.1001/jama.1996.03530300031036. PMID: 8627965.