This small dietary change could have a huge impact on your digestive health, which is increasingly important as you age. From weight loss to detox, the power of fiber incorporated as part of your daily food intake could help you avoid some serious health concerns. Whether you’re 26 or well into your 60s, the benefits of fiber can make a big difference in your digestive health, and subsequently, the quality of your life.
Fiber is responsible for various digestive health functions in the body, including preventing constipation. Dietary fiber or “roughage” is utilized in the colon to help clear it out. The two main types of fiber are soluble fiber and insoluble fiber—both are equally important for digestive health.
When mixed with water, soluble fiber dissolves and becomes gel-like, making stool softer and creating the fluidity it needs to pass with ease. This is an important part of digestive health because it keeps your body’s plumbing working in optimal shape. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve—that’s why it helps to bulk up stool and acts as a cleansing agent by moving waste along inside the intestine at a faster rate. Both types of fiber work to combat the unpleasant complications that come with poor digestive health.
One of the biggest side effects of poor digestive health is constipation. It’s caused when waste moves too slowly through the large intestine, and by the time it reaches the colon, the stool has hardened and is difficult to pass. This can lead to extreme discomfort or pain in the stomach, as well as anal fissures, which is tearing of the anal wall caused by strained bowel movements. Consuming more fiber will correct this digestive health problem.
Another nasty and quite embarrassing side effect of poor digestive health is a foul body odor. This happens when fecal matter lays dormant in the colon for too long, inviting bacteria to develop and multiply. Other issues can include weight gain, indigestion, and headaches. However, with a daily intake of at least 30 grams of fiber, you can provide yourself with relief from these digestive health concerns and prevent future problems.
The benefits of soluble fiber don’t stop there. On top of improving digestive health, it has also been credited with regulating blood-glucose levels and decreasing cholesterol levels, helping to avert widespread diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
It also makes you feel fuller longer, helping to balance your calorie intake—perfect for a weight loss diet. Furthermore, soluble fiber works to join cholesterol and bile acids to be expelled, versus being absorbed, which can cause hardening of the arteries and risk overall heart health.
So how can you reap the digestive health benefits of fiber? Swap white bread for whole wheat, trade in your midday coffee for lemon water and an apple, and switch from a side of fries to a side of spinach. Dark leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, and nuts like walnut and hazelnut are also great fiber sources. For optimal digestive health, men need to consume 38 grams of fiber per day, and women need 25 grams. On average, most Americans are only getting 15 grams.
These slight dietary improvements will help clean out your system and banish irritability caused by constipation and other digestive health issues. A regular dose of your recommended fiber intake will not only help keep you regular, but certainly happier too.
Zelman, K.M., “Fiber: How Much Do You Need?,” WebMD web site; https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/fiber-how-much-do-you-need, last accessed July 8, 2013.
Zelman, K.M., “The Benefits of Fiber: For Your Heart, Weight, and Energy,” WebMD web site; https://www.webmd.com/diet/fiber-health-benefits-11/insoluble-soluble-fiber, last accessed July 8, 2013.
Samira Zia Rehman
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