What can fiber do for health? Many benefits of fiber – particularly its value in aiding elimination and treating constipation – are well established. It is also generally accepted as a factor in lowering the risk of hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. The possible role of fiber in helping to prevent diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer of the colon, and diabetes is still under study. Current findings suggest that moderate amounts of fiber are good for your health, an association that may be stronger with the fibers in fruits and vegetables than with those in grains.
How does fiber work? Fiber is sometimes called “nature’s broom” because it helps to sweep the products of digestion through the body and eliminate them. Fiber absorbs moisture, thereby adding bulk to food materials as they pass through the intestinal tract. Bulk stimulates muscles, helping the waste products to move along quickly and to be eliminated regularly, reducing strain on blood vessels and the lower bowel.
Theories relating fiber consumption to disease prevention suggest that a fast intestinal “transit time” can remove harmful substances from the body before they can cause disease, and that absorption of cholesterol by fiber may prevent its absorption into the blood. However, fiber also absorbs significant amounts of iron and zinc, thus reducing the percentage of these two important nutrients going into the blood.
Studies have shown that diabetics on a high-fiber diet (that is also low in fat and sugar) have improved control of blood-sugar levels. In this case, researchers have evidence that fiber actually delays digestion and thus delays conversion of starches to glucose. This slowdown – which works only when fiber is included as part of a meal and not as a between-meal snack or supplement – helps to control the rise in blood sugar that can be a problem for diabetics.
Fiber is a proven aid to dieters too. It requires chewing, and also tends to satisfy hunger without providing calories because it swells up in the body and creates a feeling of fullness.