You’ve probably heard over and over about how important fiber is to your diet. You may also know that maintaining a gluten free diet can make it harder to get enough fiber, since whole grains like wheat are a main source of it. But what is fiber, really, and why is it such a big deal? Here’s an explanation, along with 5 reasons fiber is important to your diet.
What is fiber?
Fiber is the part of plant foods that humans can’t digest or absorb. It comes in two types – soluble, which dissolves in water, and insoluble, which doesn’t. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. Soluble fiber is found in foods like beans and peas, apples, and citrus fruits. Insoluble fiber helps move things through your digestive system. Nuts, beans, potatoes and vegetables are good sources of insoluble fiber. Medical resources like the Mayo Clinic say you should eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods to receive the biggest health benefit. What benefits, you ask?
5 reasons fiber is important to your diet
1. It helps you manage your weight
High fiber foods tend to be more filling, take longer to eat, and have fewer calories than low fiber foods. This means you eat less and stay satisfied longer.
2. It helps you poop
Insoluble fiber helps move food through your large intestine and provides bulk to stool. This means, your poop holds together and moves through your system efficiently. It’s why fiber is often recommended to people with pooping problems. Sufficient dietary fiber also helps prevent hemorrhoids because when it’s moving easily, you don’t have to strain!
3. It can lower blood cholesterol levels
A high-fiber diet is associated with lower blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease. Eating more fiber reduces this risk.
4. It can reduce your risk of certain cancers
5. It feeds your good gut bacteria
A study showed that when gut microbes are starved of fiber, they instead feed on the mucus lining the gut, leading to inflammation and increasing disease risk. Another showed that adding fiber to the diet can change the microbes in the gut from a profile associated with obesity to one linked with a leaner body. Additional small studies showed that to maintain the healthy effects of fiber on the gut microbiota, a person must eat a consistently high fiber diet, every day. Just eating high fiber sometimes isn’t enough to sustain the effect.
Where to get gluten free sources of fiber
Now that you’re convinced of the benefits of increasing your fiber intake, you’re probably wondering what foods will provide the best benefits. The best gluten free sources of fiber are vegetables, tubers (like potatoes), fruits and nuts. I published charts of good nutrient source foods on a recent article about celiac disease and nutrition, and I included fiber on those charts. I’ve re-posted the charts below.
WebMD recommends you start slowly, and build up your tolerance to added fiber. Too much fiber can cause bloating, cramping and gas. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water to keep everything moving through your system!
Do you pay attention to your fiber intake? What are your favorite fiber-rich foods? Tell me in the comments!