You've probably seen articles in the news urging people to eat a high fiber diet. While many people could indeed benefit from adding more fiber to the diet, it's important to note that the effects of such a diet can be both positive and negative depending on the amount and type of fiber you eat each day and how your body reacts to it.
Fiber is a part of a plant that cannot be digested by the human body. There are two different types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble, depending on whether the fiber can absorb water.
Both types of fiber are important for good health. According to the MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, the average American consumes about 10 to 15 grams of fiber per day, while the recommended amount is closer to 20 to 35 grams per day. You can gradually increase your intake to meet recommendations by incorporating high-fiber foods into your diet.
Benefits of a High Fiber Diet
Eating more fiber has a host of positive benefits. However, if you currently eat a very low fiber diet, you may want to increase your intake gradually so you can avoid symptoms often associated with suddenly consuming large amounts of fiber.
The Mayo Clinic reports that eating a high fiber diet can improve the regularity of your bowel movements. It does this by adding bulk and softness to your stool. This allows the stool to move more efficiently through your intestines, cleaning up as it goes. Eating a high fiber diet may help reduce your risk of a number of intestinal issues including:
- Diverticular disease
- Colon cancer
Better Blood Lipid Profiles
You've probably heard about the link between dietary fiber and lower cholesterol. Studies show that soluble fiber decreases low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol associated with blood vessel disease and blockages.
Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Eating high fiber foods may help control your blood sugar, which can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Several studies have made this correlation between fiber and diabetes, including a 2007 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the risk is reduced because fiber slows absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, which allows for a more gradual increase in blood glucose levels. When glucose levels in the blood rise more slowly, your pancreas doesn't need to release as much insulin as quickly.
Better Weight Control
Your body doesn't absorb fiber, so it doesn't have caloric content. Instead, it adds non-caloric bulk to foods, which can make you feel more satisfied with fewer calories, according to WebMD. Eating more fiber may help you lower caloric intake, which may provide you with better control over your weight.
Drawbacks of a High Fiber Diet
On the other hand, there are some negative effects of a high fiber diet. This is particularly true if you take fiber supplements or if you start eating too much fiber too quickly.
In many cases, gastrointestinal upset from a high fiber diet arises from too much, too soon. According to the Mayo Clinic, eating high-fiber foods can lead to the formation of gas. This can cause a number of gastrointestinal issues such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Flatulence and burping
Reduced Nutrient Absorption
The University of Maryland Medical Center states too much dietary fiber can slow the absorption of certain nutrients. These include magnesium, iron, and calcium. You can counteract this effect by eating high-fiber foods that are a rich source of vitamins and minerals.
Reduced Absorption of Certain Medications
A diet high in fiber may reduce the absorption of certain medications, as well. Typically, you can avoid this problem by taking your medications before you eat high fiber foods or not taking them with a fiber supplement. According to the University of Maryland, high fiber diets may decrease absorption of several types of medication including:
- Thyroid medication
- Certain antidepressants
- Diabetes medication
Throat or Intestinal Blockage
Fiber needs a lot of water to continue to move effectively through your system. While dietary fiber typically isn't an issue, taking fiber supplements without adequate water can cause dangerous blockages in your throat and intestines, according to WebMD.
Adding More Fiber to Your Diet
If you aren't eating a lot of fiber now but would like to switch to a high-fiber diet, transition slowly to give your body time to acclimate. This can help you avoid many of the negative effects associated with a high fiber diet. Likewise, if you plan to add fiber supplements to your diet, talk to your doctor first.
In most cases, the benefits of a high-fiber diet outweigh the risks. Switching to a high-fiber diet may take a little getting used to at first, but that discomfort is certainly worth it when you think about the potential benefits you could be getting by eating more fiber.