Fiber can improve digestion, cut the risk of disease and help control weight, but most Americans don't get enough.
Eating something you can't digest might sound silly. But when that something is fiber, it's a smart choice.
Fiber not only works to keep your digestive system healthy, it also helps you prevent heart disease and some types of cancer, control diabetes, and maintain a healthy weight, according to HelpGuide.
Types of fiber
Dietary fiber is the carbohydrate in plant foods your body can't digest. There are two kinds—soluble and insoluble. Both types are important for health, according to the American Heart Association. It's also important for normal bowel function.
Overall, dietary fiber slows down digestion. A person feels full longer on fewer calories, which can help control weight.
Once fiber reaches the colon, it increases the bulk and weight of stool, helping to dilute any harmful substances and remove waste more quickly from the body. This can help prevent constipation as well as lower the risk of colon cancer.
Many high-fiber foods are also rich in nutrients that may help prevent other types of cancer, such as those affecting the mouth, throat and stomach.
Many people can meet their daily fiber needs by eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables plus at least three small servings of whole grains, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).
Here are some practical ways to get the fiber you need:
Start with a high-fiber breakfast. It can be as easy as selecting a cereal that contains 20% of your daily fiber needs. The nutrition facts label will spell it out.
Arrange your plate so that two-thirds of it is devoted to plant-based foods.
Eat fruit for snacks.
Toss in a small handful of nuts and seeds a few times a week.
Don't overdo it
As good as fiber is for you, be careful not to get too much or increase your intake too quickly. Eating more than 60 grams of fiber a day or suddenly increasing the amount of fiber in your diet can lead to stomach pain, gas or bloating, according to the AICR.
It's better to add fiber slowly so your body has time to adjust. Also, drink plenty of water each day so stools are easy to pass.
A registered dietitian or your doctor can help you create a high-fiber diet that works for you.