Benefits of eating fiber

Originally Published: May 15, 1998 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 17, 2008
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Alice,

What are the benefits of eating fiber? How can too much fiber in one’s diet be dangerous?

Dear Reader,

Fiber is fun to talk about... fiber and fecal bulk. What do they have in common? More than you think....

Fiber improves large intestine function and keeps the muscles of the large intestine strong. In other words, it speeds up the transit time of food and increases the size of stool (fecal bulk), thereby helping prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. Fiber also lowers blood cholesterol, helps control diabetes, and plays a role in the prevention of colon cancer. Fiber is a very important component in weight control as well. Foods that contain fiber are typically low in fat, and one recent study showed that fiber may also block some of the digestion of fat and protein. In this study, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers fed a certain number of calories to all participants, but altered the fiber content of the meals. The results? Fewer calories were absorbed with increased fiber intake. When a man increased his fiber intake from 18 to 36 grams per day, he absorbed 130 fewer calories daily. When a woman increased her fiber intake from 12 to 24 grams per day, she absorbed 90 fewer calories daily. Over a year's time, this could add up to nine to ten pounds.

However, having too much fiber in one's diet can cause problems. When the intake of fiber is too high, it can replace other energy and nutrients that you need in your diet. Some insoluble fibers bind certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and iron. Too much fiber can also cause abdominal discomfort, gas, and diarrhea, and block the gastrointestinal (GI) tract if you add too much fiber too fast. So, go slowly to give your GI tract time to adapt and drink lots of fluids to keep the fiber soft. Also, choose a variety of soluble and insoluble fiber-rich food sources: fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, and legumes (beans and peas). Remember that brown rice and 100% whole wheat bread have more fiber than white rice or white bread. Eating the skins of your fruits and vegetables whenever possible can also help increase fiber intake.

Overall, fiber is a good thing. No, a great thing! As for how much fiber you need: shoot for 25 to 30 grams a day and see if you notice any differences in measures of your health.

Hope this was helpful.

Alice