Dietary fiber essential for healthy diet

Published On: Jan 09 2014 02:16:22 PM EST

By Mayo Clinic News Network

Eat more fiber. You've probably heard it before. But do you know why fiber is so good for your health?

Dietary fiber — found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes — is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But foods containing fiber can provide other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Selecting tasty foods that provide fiber isn't difficult. Find out how much dietary fiber you need, the foods that contain it, and how to add them to meals and snacks.

What is dietary fiber?

Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes all parts of plant foods that your body can't digest or absorb. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates — which your body breaks down and absorbs — fiber isn't digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, colon and out of your body.

Fiber is commonly classified as soluble (it dissolves in water) or insoluble (it doesn't dissolve):

Most plant-based foods, such as oatmeal and beans, contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. However, the amount of each type varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.

Benefits of a high-fiber diet

A high-fiber diet has many benefits, which include:

Another benefit attributed to dietary fiber is prevention of colorectal cancer. However, the evidence that fiber reduces colorectal cancer is mixed.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/fiber/ART-20043983