Most know that fiber consumption is beneficial for digestive health, but many are not fully aware of the full array of health benefits that come from consuming fiber. Adequate fiber intake benefits digestion and reduces disease risk, but there are even more benefits than these two well know benefits.
What Is Fiber?
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate found in foods. There are two categories of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. We can also categorize fiber by classifying it as either "fermentable" and "non-fermentable," which lets us know if gut-friendly bacteria will be using this fiber. Fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Bacteria found in the GI tract total about 100 trillion in volume, a species that is known as the gut flora. This good bacteria performs functions such as blood sugar regulation, weight control, immune function, brain function, and digestion.
Fiber is a Pre-biotic
Fiber plays a huge role in the GI tract because fiber does not digest until it reaches the intestines. Unlike carbohydrates, protein, and fat, which begin to digest upon consumption, the fiber must be digested by the good gut flora. This is why we refer to fiber as a "pre-biotic," and this pre-biotic consumption both causes the bacteria to increase, and also prevents bowel related disorders, like IBD, IBS, and Crohn's disease.
Fiber Stabilizes Blood Sugar
High fiber foods have a lower glycemic index than non-fibrous foods, which is especially important information for those who have or are at risk for diabetes. The fiber slows down the absorption of the sugars from the carbohydrates into the bloodstream and prevents sudden insulin spikes.
Fiber consumption can reduce cholesterol, which will have positive health benefits. A review of 67 controlled studies found that consuming 2–10 grams of soluble fiber per day reduced total cholesterol by only 1.7 mg/dl and LDL cholesterol by 2.2 mg/dl, on average.
Promotes Healthy Hormones
One of the most impressive benefits of fiber includes its ability to remove excess estrogen from the body. Fiber prevents estrogen from being absorbed in the colon, and fiber also causes estrogen to be removed along with waste. It is very beneficial for reproductive function, as the estrogen that it is removing is often linked to estrogen-driven cancers and other estrogen dominant conditions. Eating a high fiber diet reduces breast cancer risk, and in men, it has been associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer. Fiber also removed harmful fats from the body, which also has a positive impact on hormone health.
Overall, eating a diet high in fiber will encourage gastrointestinal health, promote stable blood sugar, lower cholesterol, balance hormone levels, and prevent disease. Here are some of the dietary sources that are the highest in fiber: