Fiber - It's Better For You Than You May Know
An apple a day keeps the doctor away. It is an age old adage. One most of us have probably heard with such frequency that we've never actually stopped to consider, "Why?"
Of course there is the obvious correlation: apples are fruits, fruits are healthy, therefore apples must be good for your health. But what if we looked a little closer? Why an apple? Why not a banana? A mango? Certainly oranges are higher in immune-supporting vitamin C. And yet, for hundreds of years apples have been touted as the preeminent fruit to maintain your health. One possible explanation is that, in addition to its multiple other beneficial features, the apple happens to be one of the fruits that is highest in fiber.
Unfortunately, the importance of dietary fiber is often overlooked. Along with most essential nutrients, the average American diet fails to provide the recommended daily amount of fiber through food intake alone. However, getting the recommended 21 to 38 grams of fiber each day is one of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy digestive system. Surprisingly, good digestion carries more benefits than simply maintaining regularity and avoiding the discomfort of occasional constipation. Research has shown that healthy digestion can actually help protect against high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and even certain forms of cancer.
Fiber aids the digestive process in multiple ways. In fact, there are two types of fiber—both of which play an equally important role. Soluble fiber (found in fruits, vegetables, oats, and legumes) absorbs water in the intestines and turns food into a gel-like substance which slows the rate of glucose absorption and helps maintain balanced blood-sugar levels. Insoluble fiber (found in whole grains) provides bulk and stimulates the intestinal muscles allowing food to pass through the digestive system more rapidly and with greater ease.
These processes are important for a variety of reasons. Maintaining bowel regularity decreases the contact time between stools and the intestinal wall, allowing less opportunity for the body to absorb harmful toxins that could potentially develop into other diseases and even cancerous cells. Fiber also acts as a way to sweep out cholesterol—picking it up as it moves through the intestines and carrying it out of the body. Lowering your cholesterol also lowers your risk for heart disease. In general, fiber contributes to a healthier intestinal and colonic atmosphere by encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria which, in turn, creates short-chain fatty acids that are rich in vitamin E and other nutrients that help maintain the immune system.
In addition to immune support, fiber is also an extremely effective tool in weight management. More than just an upshot of vanity, there is a huge correlation between maintaining a healthy weight and maintaining overall health. By absorbing water and creating bulk, fiber allows you to feel fuller longer and subsequently avoid overeating. Furthermore, fiber slows the body’s absorption of fat allowing for more fats that we eat to actually exit the body. These weight management benefits of fiber can help you avoid diabetes and dangerous cardiovascular issues.
And, finally, perhaps one of the greatest benefits of consuming the daily recommended amount of fiber is that it contributes to a better functioning brain. Along with the absorption of fat, fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the intestines. This helps keep blood-sugar and insulin levels lower and better balanced which can increase levels of concentration and learning.
On the whole, the benefits of fiber and its contributions to a person’s overall health and well-being are undeniable. And while an apple a day may, in fact, keep the doctor away, perhaps it is time for a new saying: Enjoy your fiber™ — because your body and brain certainly do.