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How Fiber is Key to a Healthy Diet

Most people understand that fiber helps keep the digestive tract flowing, by keeping bowel movements regular. But there a many other benefits to fiber-rich diets, which primarily include whole fruits and vegetables.

Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that comes from plant-based foods. Animal-based food products — such as milk, eggs, meat, poultry or fish — do not contain fiber. Unlike other starches and sugars, fiber does not raise glucose, or blood sugar, in the body.

Good sources of dietary fiber include beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Fiber helps speed up the elimination of toxic waste through the colon. It can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Fiber also promotes healthy cholesterol levels, a cornerstone for heart health.

All of these fiber benefits come primarily from whole foods, not over-the-counter pill supplements, dietitians say.

“Plants contain thousands of chemicals and healthy oils that hinder key steps in the development of disease and inflammation,” says Natalie Castro, chief wellness dietitian for corporate wellness at Baptist Health South Florida. “The high fiber and nutrient content in plant foods like vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruit have shown to help control blood-sugar swings after meals, improving how our bodies metabolize the nutrients.”

How ‘Juicing’ Destroys Fiber
The popularity of “juicing” has meant less of an emphasis on fiber. By eviscerating fruits and vegetables in a blender, you remove or degrade the food’s vital nutrients, including fiber. By juicing, you may be increasing sugar intake — without getting the full benefit of the fruit’s or vegetable’s natural nutrients.

“In recent times, people are using fruits in juices and smoothies,” says Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Baptist Health South Florida. “When fruits are altered or adjusted in their form, they can change the function they serve in our bodies.”

Whole Grains and Fiber
Whole grains have valuable antioxidants that may not even be found in fruits and vegetables. They are also good sources of B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber. In contrast to whole grains, refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In addition to choosing whole grain or multi-grain bread, dietitians urge consumers to look for whole grain cereals made from whole grains, including wheat, wheat bran and oats that contain three grams of dietary fiber or more per serving. Check the ingredients list to make sure that the first ingredient includes the word “whole” before the grain listed.