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Understanding the Health Benefits of Fiber

arrangement of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods
Foods that are high in fiber help keep your digestive system operating smoothly.

by Steven Auger

 

When it's time to hit the gym, you want to function at your best. And if you don't fuel your body properly, you likely won't get the most out of your routine! One essential nutrient your body needs? Fiber! In fact, there are many health benefits of fiber.

"Put simply, dietary fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate found in foods," explains Healthline. It can be found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Here are some ways that fiber can contribute to your own healthy lifestyle!

Fiber Types and Benefits

Fiber can be classified into one of two categories, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH): soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and turns into a gel-like substance during digestion, which slows down the process. Soluble fiber is found in numerous foods including barley, beans, lentils, oat bran, and peas.

Insoluble fiber, which doesn't get absorbed into your bloodstream, enables food to traverse the stomach and small intestines faster. Insoluble fiber is common in wheat bran, whole grains, and vegetables.

Foods that are high in fiber help keep your digestive system operating smoothly, according to Mayo Clinic. Specifically, dietary fiber can help improve digestive regularity. A high-fiber diet can also lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels, and ultimately, help you live longer by decreasing your chance of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Fiber Consumption

Recommended fiber consumption rates vary based on age and gender. Mayo Clinic notes that men who are 50 years old or younger should consume 38 grams per day, while men who are 51 or older should consume 30 grams per day. Women who are 50 years old or younger should consume 25 grams per day, and women who are 51 or older should consume 21 grams per day. While talk of grams per day might not mean much on its own, you can convert the amounts into servings to better understand your fiber intake. For example, one slice of whole-wheat bread typically offers 1.9 grams of dietary fiber, according to the USDA. One medium banana typically offers 3.1 grams of fiber. Read nutrition labels on packaged foods and turn to the USDA to help determine your fiber intake. In general, you should look for items with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Some easy go-to options include fiber-rich cereals, apples, avocados, raspberries, and broccoli. Whole-grain versions of any grain (including rice, wheat, corn, etc.) contain more fiber than their processed "white" counterparts. Beans and legumes are rich in both fiber and protein, and most fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber with any meal.

Fiber and Fitness

Because fiber is a carbohydrate — and carbs fuel the body — eating high-fiber foods before you exercise can enhance your ability to work out. The San Francisco Gate has also reported that a high-fiber diet can make it easier to stick to a healthy eating plan that complements your exercise routine. "Whether you're cycling, running or simply walking briskly, your muscles need energy to keep them going," notes the source. "The role of carbs in exercise performance is well-recognized and can be used to your advantage." So, there you have it! Taking advantage of the health benefits of fiber is a valuable part of your fitness journey.

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.