How Fiber Keeps Your Brain and Heart in Shape

Grandma always said we should “eat more roughage.” Turns out she was right. Whether you call it roughage like Grandma did, or by its official name—fiber—eating more is better. That’s because fiber is the key to keeping you, um… regular.

As fiber moves through your body, it slows digestion. Fiber is defined as the parts of plant food that your body cannot digest. That’s how it keeps you regular. It makes your stools softer and easier to pass.

But fiber does so much more than that. High fiber foods are good for your heart and head. They can help prevent strokes, help you lose weight and help you avoid or manage diabetes.

Not bad for the food voted “Most Likely to Make a Middle Schooler Snicker.”

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

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

Soluble Fiber
This type of fiber attracts water. It is similar to the way oats absorb water to turn into oatmeal. During digestion, soluble fiber turns into a gel. A few of the foods that contain soluble forms of fiber are: peas, seeds, beans apples, nuts, blueberries, lentils, and, yes, oatmeal. (Check out this recipe for a yummy, high fiber kale and bean soup you can make in your slow cooker!)

Your body doesn’t absorb foods that contain high levels of soluble fiber. That’s why high fiber foods help fight diabetes--there are no blood sugar spikes that can put you at risk for Type 2 diabetes.

High fiber foods 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.

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.

Are You Getting Enough Fiber?
Most Americans don’t eat enough high fiber foods, according to the Institute of Medicine. Men need 38 grams per day but eat only about 17. Women, meanwhile, need 25 grams of fiber per day, but usually consume only 13 grams.

It’s easy to bulk up the high fiber foods in your diet if you:

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

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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