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We’ve all heard many times that eating a diet rich in fiber and whole foods is good for us, but why? Is it merely because it keeps us, ahem, regular? Well actually, the benefits of fiber and whole foods diet are a lot more than merely aiding digestive health. Here’s more on the benefits of fiber and whole foods.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is the part of plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and beans) that passes through the body undigested. Because of this, eating fibrous rich whole foods keeps your digestive system clean and in good working order. Fiber flushes out cholesterol and harmful carcinogens in addition to easing those bowel movements. In general, the more unprocessed the food, the higher it is in fiber which is why eating a diet rich in whole foods is greatly beneficial.
It’s important to understand that there are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble does not dissolve in water -- the type that helps prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber is found in whole foods such as whole grains, wheat cereals, and vegetables like carrots.
Soluble fiber as the name suggests does dissolve in water. Because of this it helps reduce cholesterol and control blood sugar levels. Soluble fiber is found in whole foods such as oatmeal, beans, barley, nuts, apples, citrus fruits, berries, and pears.
Benefits to Digestive Health
As noted, dietary fiber normalizes bowel movements. It does this by bulking up stools and making them easier to pass thus helping relieve and prevent both constipation and diarrhea. Eating plenty of fiber can also reduce your risk of gallstones, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, and relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Benefits for Weight Loss
Eating a diet rich in whole foods and fiber adds bulk to you meal and can aid weight loss since this bulk makes you feel fuller sooner. On top of this, fiber stays in the stomach longer than other foods, so that fullness stays with you making you feel satiated and likely to eat less. High-fiber, whole foods like vegetables and fruits are often low in calories, meaning you’re likely to consume less calories overall.
Benefits to Heart Health
Soluble fiber, in particular, can help improve your heart health. It can lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome (risk factors linked to diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke). Fiber can also help to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and shed excess weight around the abdomen, or visceral fat, which has been shown to be the most dangerous area for weight gain.
Benefits to Blood Sugar Levels
Insoluble fiber from cereals can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. If you are already diabetic, it can improve your blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar.
Benefits for Cancer Prevention
Studies show that eating a high-fiber diet can help prevent colorectal cancer. There are also some links (though not all studies show this) between high-fiber diets and a lower risk for other digestive system cancers, such as stomach, mouth, and pharynx.