When do you think of fiber as exciting? Yeah, that would be never. But this research will help change your mind.
1. You’ll Lose Weight
Even if increasing your fiber intake is the only dietary change you make, you’ll shed pounds. Dieters who were told to get at least 30 grams of fiber a day, but given no other dietary parameters, lost a significant amount of weight, found a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In fact, they lost nearly as much as a group put on a much more complex diet that required limiting calories, fat, sugar and salt and upping fruit, veggie and whole-grain consumption. Fiber-rich foods not only fill you up faster and keep you satisfied longer, they also prevent your body from absorbing some of the calories in the foods you eat. “Fiber binds with fat and sugar molecules as they travel through your digestive tract, which reduces the number of calories you actually get,” explains Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., author of The F-Factor Diet. Another study found that people who doubled their fiber intake to the recommended amount knocked off between 90 and 130 calories from their daily intake-that’s equal to a 9- to 13-pound weight loss over the course of a year.
2. Maintain a Healthier Weight Over Time
Yep, it can also help you avoid putting pounds back on. People who got more fiber tended to be leaner overall-while those who were obese got an average of almost 1 gram a day less fiber than normal-weight participants, according to a study at the Medical University of South Carolina. And recent research at Georgia State University found that mice put on diets lacking in fiber-specifically soluble fiber-gained weight and had more body fat compared to those who weren’t deficient. What’s more, mice given adequate soluble fiber resisted fat gain-even when put on a high-fat diet.
3. Cut Your Type 2 Diabetes Risk
It’s a well-established fact. A recent analysis of 19 studies, for example, found that people who ate the most fiber-more than 26 grams a day-lowered their odds of the disease by 18 percent, compared to those who consumed the least (less than 19 grams daily). The researchers believe that it’s fiber’s one-two punch of keeping blood sugar levels steady and keeping you at a healthy weight that may help stave off the development of diabetes.
4. Lower Your Odds of Heart Disease
For every 7 grams of fiber eaten daily, your risk of heart disease drops by 9 percent found a review of 22 studies published in the BMJ. That’s partly due to fiber’s ability to sop up excess cholesterol in your system and ferry it out before it can clog your arteries.
5. Have Healthier Gut Bacteria
The good bugs that make up your microbiome feed off fiber-and flourish. As your gut bacteria gobble up fiber that has fermented in your G.I. tract (delish), they produce short-chain fatty acids that have a host of benefits-including lowering systemic inflammation, which has been linked to obesity and nearly every major chronic health problem. A recent Italian study found that eating a high-fiber Mediterranean diet was associated with higher levels of short-chain fatty acids. “And you can start to see the changes in gut bacteria within just a few days,” says Kelly Swanson, Ph.D., a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The catch: You’ve got to consistently get enough grams-ideally every day, if not most days of the week-to keep getting the benefits. Skimping on fiber shifts bacteria populations in a way that increases inflammation in the body.
6. Reduce Your Risk of Certain Cancers
Every 10 grams of fiber you eat is associated with a 10 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer and a 5 percent fall in breast cancer risk, says a study published in the Annals of Oncology. In addition to the anti-cancer effects of fiber, the foods that contain it-like veggies and fruits-are also rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that could further reduce your odds, notes Sheth.
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7. Live Longer, Period
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health recently found that people who often ate fiber-rich cereals and whole grains had a 19 and 17 percent, respectively, reduced risk of death-from any cause-compared to those who noshed on less fiber-heavy fare.
8. Be More, Well, Regular
Snicker all you like, but “constipation is one of the most common G.I. complaints in the United States,” says Zuckerbrot. And you don’t need us to tell you it’s no fun. Fiber makes your poop softer and bulkier-both of which speed its passage from your body.
9. Get an All-Natural Detox
Who needs a juice cleanse? Fiber naturally scrubs and promotes the elimination of toxins from your G.I. tract. Explains Zuckerbrot: “Soluble fiber soaks up potentially harmful compounds, such as excess estrogen and unhealthy fats, before they can be absorbed by the body.” And, she adds, because insoluble fiber makes things move along more quickly, it limits the amount of time that chemicals like BPA, mercury and pesticides stay in your system. The faster they go through you, the less chance they have to cause harm.
Some types of soluble fiber-dubbed “prebiotics” and found in asparagus, leeks, soybeans, wheat and oats-have been shown to increase the bioavailability of minerals like calcium in the foods you eat, which may help maintain bone density.