When you think fiber, what comes to mind? Your favorite breakfast bar? A supplement?
Think again. The best source of this important nutrient is unprocessed, plant-based foods.
“A high-fiber diet may help reduce your overall calorie intake and help you maintain a healthy weight, which is vital to reducing cancer risk,” says Adriana Salmon, clinical dietitian at MD Anderson.
The benefits of fiber
There are many other benefits to adding fiber to your diet, besides helping to lower your cancer risk. Other benefits of a diet high in fiber include:
- Feeling full longer. Dietary fiber includes a form of carbohydrate that people can’t digest. The fiber slows the speed at which food and drink leave your stomach. So, you stay full longer after each meal or snack.
- Weight control. Many high-fiber foods are low-calorie and packed with nutrients. That’s good news since maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important factors in reducing your risk of cancer and other diseases.
- Lower cholesterol. Some fibers help prevent fat and cholesterol absorption, helping you lower your cholesterol over time.
- Stabilized blood sugar levels. Diabetic? Or at risk of becoming diabetic? Fiber can positively influence blood sugar levels by slowing how quickly sugar gets into your blood stream.
- Bowel management. Have digestive problems? Adding fiber to your diet can help protect your intestinal lining and make bowel movements easier or more frequent.
Sources of fiber
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both are a part of a healthy diet that can help lower your cancer risk.
Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion, slowing the process. Soluble fiber sources include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Brussels sprouts
Insoluble fiber helps food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. Insoluble fiber sources include:
- Whole grains
- Wheat bran
She adds that juice is not a good source of fiber. Even if juice is made from fresh fruits and vegetables, the fiber is often removed in the juicing process.
“Ideally, you want fiber to come from whole food sources,” Salmon says.
Foods with at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving are considered good sources of fiber. And foods with at least 5 grams or more per serving of fiber are considered excellent sources of fiber.
How to add fiber to your diet
Be sure to increase your fiber intake gradually. Adding large amounts of fiber to your diet too quickly can cause discomfort or gas. Instead, try adding a little more fiber to each meal by including a piece of fruit or switching grains for whole grains.
“And be sure to get plenty of fluids,” Salmon says. “Staying hydrated will help ensure that the additional fiber doesn’t cause any stomach problems.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.