What Is the Purpose of Fiber?

Whole-grain cereal is high in fiber.
i Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

If you’ve ever eaten a meal and 30 minutes later feel like you didn’t have anything at all, your meal was not likely high in fiber. Dietary fiber, which is present in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, helps you feel fuller, longer so your sweet tooth doesn’t rear its ugly head. Fiber has a lot of other important roles in the body, but eating too much too soon can lead to adverse side effects. Always talk to your physician before making dietary changes to make sure the increased fiber intake will not interfere with any medical treatments.

Adds Bulk to Your Stool

The stress of daily life and the convenience of pre-packaged foods and vending machines can make constipation or irregular passage of stools a way of life. One of fiber’s key tasks is to minimize constipation by adding bulk to your stool. Because fiber remains largely undigested in your body, it moves through your intestines mostly intact, and it attracts water and stimulates the muscles that help pass the stool. Fiber found in wheat and oat bran seems to be especially effective for preventing constipation.

Prevents Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, and it’s never too early to start thinking about prevention. A study of female nurses found cereal fiber in grains is especially effective for lowering risk of heart disease. Additional heart-healthy effects from fiber include reducing high blood pressure, maintaining glucose levels and boosting your high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol levels.

Stomach Emptying

There are two fiber types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber found in beans dissolves in water while insoluble fiber found in nuts, vegetables and whole-wheat products does not. Soluble fiber is especially helpful for preventing sugars in your food from being absorbed too quickly. This effect is especially significant if you have diabetes, which affects your blood sugar levels. High-fiber foods also make you feel fuller, longer because they do not get digested quickly. They also take longer to chew, which helps your brain catch up to your stomach, receiving the signals that you are full and have had enough to eat.

Your Daily Needs

You need to get about 25 grams of fiber on a daily basis. If you don't get this amount already, increase your fiber intake slowly to avoid side effects such as bloating, nausea and gas because your body is not used to this much fiber. To start, incorporate an extra fiber serving per day, such as a high-fiber cereal with more than 5 grams per serving. Choose whole-grain instead of refined-grain sources or add an extra vegetable or fruit serving per day. While you’re eating more healthy fiber choices, drink enough water. This will help make your stool pass more easily.

the nest