5 Reasons You Should Eat A Fiber Rich Diet

Earlier this year, I was honored to be asked to serve on a panel of health experts.  One of the audience members asked the following question: “I know I am supposed to eat more fiber, but can you explain in simple terms why it’s so important?” 

Wow, what a seriously great question, and one I am going to answer in this article.  

Building your diet around fiber-rich whole foods is important for not only cancer prevention and survival, but for a host of other reasons, too.  Let’s dive in.  

What is fiber?

Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. Fiber is classified into two main types: soluble and insoluble.

  • Soluble Fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Examples include oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, and psyllium.
  • Insoluble Fiber does not dissolve in water. It adds bulk to the stool and can help food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. Examples include whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.

5 reasons to eat fiber

1. Digestive Health: Fiber helps maintain bowel health by softening stool and making it easier to pass. This can prevent constipation and reduce the risk of diverticulitis and hemorrhoids.

2. Weight Management: High-fiber foods are more filling than low-fiber foods, helping you eat less and stay satisfied longer. This can be beneficial for weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight.

3. Blood Sugar Control: Soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels, which is particularly beneficial for people with diabetes.

4. Cholesterol Levels: Soluble fiber can help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol.

5. Cancer Prevention: What experts are discovering is that many foods that help you prevent cancer in the first place are also the foods that help you beat the disease and heal once it has struck. Emerging research suggests that a high-fiber diet may play a significant role in reducing the risk of certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer and breast cancer. 

Here’s how fiber contributes to cancer prevention:

Regulates Hormone Levels: An important theme emerging from research is that foods can influence the hormones that fuel cancer growth.  High levels of estrogen for a long period of time have been linked to an increase risk in hormone receptor-positive breast cancers. In Dr. Neal Barnard’s book, The Cancer Survivors Guide, he states “diets that are high in fat and low in fiber tend to boost the hormones estrogen and testosterone that promote cancer.” However, he follows this up by saying that diets rich in fiber and low in fat tend to reduce the amount of estrogens circulating in your blood stream.  The fiber binds to estrogen and helps move it out of the body through your poop.  The result is that fiber helps to reduce circulating levels of this hormone.  High levels of estrogen have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, so this binding action may help lower the risk.  

Promotes Regular Bowel Movements: By adding bulk to the stool and speeding up the passage of food through the digestive tract, fiber helps keep the intestinal contents, including unwanted toxins and hormones, moving along.  

Our body was brilliantly designed with its own built-in waste disposal system. (A big thank you to our creator.) This waste disposal system starts in your liver, which is always working to filter your blood.  As blood passes through your liver’s network of tiny capillaries, your liver cells remove toxins, cholesterol, medications, hormones, and whatever else your body wants to get rid of.  These unwanted items are then sent from your liver into a small tube called the bile duct. The bile duct is connected to your intestinal tract.  In the intestinal tract, the fiber you had from your meal soaks up those undesriables and carries them out the back door with the other waste.  See how perfectly designed this is?  As long as you eat a diet rich in fiber, your waste disposal system works well.   Your liver pulls the unwanted waste out of your bloodstream; it slides down the bile duct into your intestines,  where fiber picks it up and escorts it out the back door (your poop).   

What happens to this waste disposal process if you don’t have any fiber in your diet? 

Your liver still removes the unwanted waste from your blood and sends it down the bile duct into the intestinal tract, but with no fiber in the intestines, there is nothing for it to attach to. The unwanted toxins, cholesterol, medications, and hormones are then reabsorbed back into your bloodstream and the whole process starts over again. This endless cycle of toxins, cholesterol, medications, waste, hormones, etc. passing from the bloodstream, through the liver and bile duct, into the intestinal tract, then, unfortunately, back into the bloodstream keeps toxins and other waste circulating for longer than they should. Fiber stops the cycle by attaching to the unwanted items and then carrying them out the back door (your poop) once and for all. 

Supports a Healthy Microbiome: Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest so it passes through the digestive system into our colon where it feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut.  Yep, it’s food (aka, prebiotics) for the “good guys” (aka, probiotics).  Eating plenty of fiber, as well as a large variety of different kinds of fiber, means that you are passing along plenty of food to feed the bacteria helpful to our health so that it can thrive.  A diet rich in fiber promotes a diverse, balanced, and healthy gut microbiome. A balanced microbiome supports the immune system. A healthy immune system helps protect against cancer by enhancing the body’s natural defenses.

Now that you are sold on eating fiber, what foods are rich in fiber and how much do you need? 

Foods rich in fiber

Incorporating a variety of fiber-rich foods into your diet is crucial for overall health. Here are some excellent sources:

  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, berries, pears, and avocados.
  • Vegetables: Carrots, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes.
  • Legumes: Lentils, black beans, chickpeas, and peas.
  • Whole Grains: Brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, and whole-wheat products.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts.

Foods with no fiber

  • Animal products including: red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products

How much fiber do you need?

Like all things diet related the answer is “well that depends.”  Below are some general guidelines for you to follow. To get more specific for your needs, you should talk to your trusted healthcare provider. Together, you can determine what works best for you. 

  • Adults:  Shoot for 40 grams per day
  • Children 1 to 3 years:  19 grams of fiber per day
  • Children 4 to 8 years:  25 grams of fiber per day
  • Boys 9 to 13 years:  31 grams of fiber per day
  • Girls 9 to 13 years:  26 grams of fiber per day
  • Boys 14 to 19 years:  38 grams of fiber per day
  • Girls 14 to 19 years:  26 grams of fiber per day

Conclusion

So, back to our initial question of why we should eat fiber – well, as you can see, incorporating fiber into your diet is a simple yet powerful way to improve your overall health and reduce your risk of various diseases, including cancer.  You should aim to consume a variety of fiber-rich foods daily to take advantage of their numerous benefits. Remember, a well-balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, not only supports digestive health but contributes to a strong, cancer-resistant body. 

Sources:

Barnard, Neal D., 1953. The Cancer Survivors’s Guide: Foods that help you fight back. Summertown. Healthy Living Publications.

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/figuring-dietary-fiber-child-need

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Yetta Blair, CFNC, CHCC

Yetta is a certified functional nutrition practitioner, holistic cancer coach and speaker. She studied whole-food, plant-based nutrition with T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. She is a food driven analyst and works with clients to help them use nutrition principles to solve the root causes of their health symptoms. She knows that functional nutrition is the answer to our current healthcare crisis, both for individuals and for society at large, and wants to inform as many people as she can of the power of food to heal. Her promise to clients - if you eat better, you will feel better.