Digestive Care Expert Brenda Watson

Mind & Body

Increase the Fiber in your DietMore Fiber, More Benefits

A daily dose of indigestible fiber provides myriad health benefits. It helps speed waste out of the bowel and absorbs toxins on its way out. It also helps soften stools, reduce cholesterol, fight constipation, and balance blood sugar levels. And, as a calorie-free weight loss tool, it takes up space in the stomach and helps you feel full and satisfied after a meal so you eat less. Most people, however, do not consume enough of this valuable carbohydrate. On average, Americans eat only 10 to 15 grams of fiber per day, even though researchers recommend between 25 and 40 grams daily.

Fiber comes in two general varieties, and both are required for optimal health. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and can be found in many fruits, vegetables and grains. It helps reduce cholesterol, regulate blood sugar and feed the beneficial intestinal flora. The richest sources of soluble fiber include apples, pears, prunes, plums, beans, oats, legumes and nuts.

Insoluble fiber -- found in wheat bran, dried beans, whole grains and seeds -- adds bulk to the stool. It can help reduce bowel transit time and prevent constipation. Flax seed is a good blend of both soluble and insoluble fiber and may reduce the risk of several types of cancer. In addition to bulking the stool and soothing the colon, research has shown that flax seed helps lower cholesterol.

If you increase the fiber in your diet, don't forget to drink plenty of water. Increasing fiber without more fluid can lead to constipation. While sophisticated palates used to reject the unrefined attributes of what was called roughage, preventive health now demands a diet with more fiber.


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