Unfortunately, the average American adult only gets about 15 grams of fiber per day – just about half the amount you need!
And it turns out this lack of fiber could be killing you.
Sound alarmist? That’s because it’s alarming – but it’s also the truth.
Getting enough fiber isn’t just about feeling fuller, longer, so you stick to your diet.
It’s not even only about the sustained energy that comes from the healthy carbohydrates where most people find their fiber.
Getting enough fiber is about fighting off diseases that can actually kill you.
Now that we’ve gotten your attention, let’s look at what a lack of fiber is doing to your health…
The Two Types of Fiber
Your body needs two types of fiber:
Soluble – think about the soluble being short for “water soluble” because this is the fiber that absorbs water once you eat it. Most people know that it’s what bulks up and gives you healthy bowel movements. You can find it in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and many other sources.
Insoluble – this form of fiber stays completely unchanged once you digest it. It’s best known for keeping your digestive system moving, so you stay regular. You can find it in seeds, vegetables, and whole grains, among other foods.
Fiber as a Line of Defense
Healthy fiber intake is one of the easiest, most effective ways to stay healthy yourself.
Constipation. While there’s more to fiber than healthy bowels, since that’s the best known, let’s start there. Yes, a lack of fiber can lead to constipation. And while mild, temporary constipation is uncomfortable, it’s hardly a health crisis. Except that chronic constipation can lead to a disease called diverticulitis – and that is a problem. Diverticulitis occurs when small pouches develop in the colon, and become inflamed. Symptoms include severe pain, fever, and nausea. If caught early, it can be treated relatively easily, but once it becomes chronic, surgery may be indicated. So, yes, a lack of fiber can cause constipation – but constipation can cause so much more.
Cardiovascular disease. Want to lower your risk of a heart attack? Increase your fiber intake. High fiber diets have been linked to lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol numbers. It’s not even just good for prevention or maintenance. People who had a lack of fiber in their diets, and then increased the amount of fiber saw their numbers go down!
Stroke. Since fiber helps lower cholesterol, it only makes sense that it also reduces your risk of stroke. By increasing your fiber intake by as little as seven g/day you could reduce your risk of stroke by up to 7%.
Diabetes. A lack of fiber contributes to diabetes in a couple different ways. First, fiber fills you up, which means you simply eat less. Since diabetes and obesity are directly linked, maintaining a healthy weight is the first step toward staving off diabetes. However, fiber also slows the absorption of the sugar you do eat, so you run less of a chance of serious blood sugar spikes and the out of control glucose levels that lead to diabetes.
Cancer. Once you realize a lack of fiber increases your risk of cancer, it’s hard to understand why everyone isn’t eating more of it. But people aren’t. However…
- High fiber diets are linked to lower rates of colorectal cancer. It’s believed that the fiber may help move waste – and the toxins it carries – through the digestive tract faster, so the toxins don’t have as much time to impact the colon.
- Breast cancer rates are lower. Fiber may bind with excess estrogen – one of the causes of breast cancer – so that it’s processed out, rather than left in the body.
- Mouth, throat, and esophageal cancers may even be reduced by fiber intake. In a study based on patients’ surveys, those who reportedly ate the most plant-based fiber had lower rates of those three types of cancers than other patients. Obviously more research needs to be done, but it’s certainly encouraging!
Sources of Fiber
A myth that contributes to a lack of fiber is that you can get fiber from meat. So let’s dispel that now: there is no fiber in meat. Even if it’s fibrous meat, like steak, it isn’t a source of nutritional fiber.
You must get fiber from plant-based sources. Think vegetables, fruits, legumes, chia seeds, nuts, whole grains… You get the idea.
But what about those fiber powders you see on tv that promise to keep you regular and help you slim down? Unfortunately, they’re not as helpful when it comes to fighting disease as you might think.
Fiber is like sugar in that you want to avoid ADDED sources. Natural sources of fiber are healthy and will help you fight disease.
Added sources of fiber just don’t have the same effect. In fact, some processed foods are adding insoluble fiber as a way of marketing their product as healthy.
But added insoluble fiber actually bonds to the essential minerals zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron, processing them out of your body.
The foods with added insoluble fiber manages to be less healthy than if they’d left it alone in the first place.
So don’t add the powdered stuff to your yogurt (or anything else) help make up for your lack of fiber. Instead, add some wheat germ or chia seeds, and get a natural source of fiber.
It’s the same difference between sprinkling your iced tea with sugar, or adding orange slices.
It’s okay if you didn’t realize how important fiber is to your health. But now you know. So don’t let a lack of fiber create health problems, when they’re so easy to avoid!