For a long time, it was thought that dietary fiber was completely useless because the intestine can draw practically no energy from it and simply excrete it through the stool. But now doctors and nutritionists know better: fiber is healthy. A high intake can help prevent various diseases and should be an integral part of a person’s diet.

What is fiber?

Dietary fibers, also known as roughage, are the part of most plant-based foods that the human body cannot fully process. They practically do not occur in animal products. They are essentially linked sugar molecules that the intestine cannot digest or can only insufficiently digest. Dietary fibers can be divided into two groups: water-soluble and water-insoluble fibers. Both groups have different characteristics. The soluble group include pectins, inulin and beta-glucans, and the insoluble group cellulose.

Benefits of eating a lot of fibers

  • To improve digestion

Insoluble fiber can bind water and swell in the intestine. This increases the volume of the stool and ensures that the intestinal contents are transported more quickly. In this way, fiber stimulates digestion and helps, for example, to prevent constipation.

  • To nourish the intestinal flora

Soluble fiber also attracts water. But they are broken down by bacteria in the colon and serve as food for the intestinal flora, which plays a major role in maintaining a person’s overall health.

  • To fight overweight and obesity

Although the fiber-rich substances practically do not leave the gastrointestinal tract for the blood, they have far-reaching effects. Already in the stomach, they thicken the chyme, delaying the emptying of the stomach and thus giving us a longer feeling of satiety. In this respect, they can help prevent overweight and obesity and help people maintain a healthy weight.

  • A reduced risk of diabetes

Fiber also causes the blood sugar level to rise more slowly after eating and thus less insulin is released. This benefits people with diabetes, which is why doctors and nutritionists often recommend that they get enough fiber. Chances are, eating a high-fiber diet also lowers your risk of developing diabetes. Whole grain products in particular show a protective effect in studies.

  • A lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases

Plant fibers also bind bile acids, which are involved in fat digestion in the intestine. In addition, cholesterol levels drop slightly in people who eat fibers. To what extent fiber can help with high cholesterol levels in this way is not yet certain. But the preventive effect against colon cancer is better documented. A large overview study showed that high-fiber diets are associated with a lower risk of colon cancer.

All of these positive effects drove Harvard University researchers to conduct a large-scale survey of dietary fiber. They found that of over 700,000 study participants during the study period, the fewer died the more dietary fiber they consumed each day. Those who ate at least 70 grams of whole grains every day actually had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer.

High fiber foods: fruits, vegetables, grains

Fiber is mainly found in fruits, vegetables and grains. The latter should be eaten as a whole grain product if possible. “Because most of the dietary fiber is in the outer layers of the grains,” explains Schulze-Lohmann. So pay attention to the whole grain version of bread, rice, pasta and other grain products. For example, legumes such as beans, chickpeas, and cabbage varieties are vegetables that are high in plant fiber. However, some people tolerate them less well.

This is why nutrition experts advise people to eat any fruits and vegetables that they like and that are good for them because they all contribute to the fiber intake. In addition, it makes sense to eat colorful and varied food anyway, as different plant fibers have different effects. To get enough fiber, experts recommend three to four slices of wholegrain bread, one serving of cereal flakes and five servings of fruit and vegetables daily.

Increase your fiber intake slowly!

Those who have previously eaten little fiber and are now increasing their intake may experience some initial discomfort such as gas, a feeling of fullness and a rumbling bowel. The intestines first have to get used to the high-fiber diet. The symptoms often subside over time. However, some people do not tolerate all fibers or only a certain amount of them. It is therefore important to test individual compatibility.

If the intestine is initially sensitive, you should use legumes, onions and cabbages more sparingly and opt for other vegetables. Instead of a coarse-grained wholegrain bread, a finely ground or a mixed rye bread is a good replacement. It contains three times more fiber than white bread. Vegetable soups are also recommended; they are easily digestible and contain not only the fiber but also a lot of liquid. You should drink enough so that the plant fibers can swell up in the intestine. The average person should drink at least 1.5 liters per day, unless there is any objection to health reasons.

Betsy Wilson

Betsy is a true science nerd, down to the glasses. Her words, not mine! She works as a nurse specializing in pediatric nursing. She holds a Master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about all thing pregnancy and baby-related.