Fiber: Why You Need More Fiber (cont.)

When you increase dietary fiber, do it gradually to avoid gastric distress, and to drink plenty of fluid (8 cups per day) to avoid constipation.

Joanne Slavin, PhD, an obesity researcher with the University of Minnesota, says dietary fiber not only makes us feel fuller, but reduces digestibility. Some studies have shown that large amounts of fiber in the diet can help regulate blood glucose and insulin. These may be reasons why people who eat higher-fiber diets tend to weigh less and are less prone to gain weight as they age.

"The best protection is at the highest fiber intakes -- at least 25 grams a day recommended for women," says Slavin.

The research findings on fiber's benefits keep pouring in. Some recent studies have shown that:

  • Eating a higher-fiber diet, as part of an overall healthful lifestyle, may play a role in a healthful BMI (body mass index). One study found that women who ate more whole grains and total fiber consistently gained less weight over 12 years than those who ate less fiber and whole grains. Another study found that women with low-fiber, high-fat diets were more likely to be overweight than those following high-fiber, low-fat diets. "Weight control advice for American women should place greater emphasis on consumption of fiber," notes one of the study's researchers, Megan McCrory, PhD.
  • A high-fiber diet may reduce your risk of colon cancer. If populations with a low average fiber intake suddenly doubled their fiber by making wiser food choices, they could lower their risk of colon cancer by 40%, according to a study involving data collected from 10 European countries. A recent National Cancer Institute study also linked high fiber intakes to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. This was especially true for fiber from grains, cereals, and fruits.
  • Fiber may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Those who ate a diet high in refined carbohydrates and low in cereal fiber were more likely to increase their risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study. And a recent Finnish study showed that as whole grain and cereal fiber intake increased, the risk of type 2 diabetes seemed to decrease. But it may not just be all about the fiber in this case; high-fiber foods are also rich in important micronutrients. That's why it's better to concentrate on including whole plant foods in your diet than to take a fiber pill or supplement.

Fiber intake has also been linked to the metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that increase the chances of developing heart disease and diabetes:

  • Higher intakes of fiber (from cereal and whole-grain products) were linked with a slower build up of cholesterol filled plaque of the arteries in postmenopausal women with coronary artery disease. In another study, in men and women aged 40-60 and free of heart disease, viscous fiber (especially pectin, the type of soluble fiber found in apples) appeared to protect against the progression of atherosclerosis in neck arteries.
  • High intakes of oat fiber appeared to have a protective effect on the heart, by lowering LDL "bad" cholesterol without decreasing HDL "good" cholesterol.