Although dietary fiber is probably best known as a remedy to prevent or relieve constipation, it also provides other important health benefits as well, including lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Dietary fiber includes all parts of plant foods that your body can't digest or absorb. As a result, high-fiber foods pass through your stomach, small intestine, colon and out of your body relatively intact, providing many health benefits.

There are two types of fiber, those that don't dissolve in water (insoluble fiber) and those that do (soluble fiber).

Insoluble fiber propels material through your digestive system without being absorbed and increases stool bulk, helping with constipation. Whole-wheat foods, nuts, and many vegetables, such as turnips, beets, Brussels sprouts, and eggplant, are good sources of insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber has the ability to dissolve in water and form a gel-like substance in the intestine that helps move food through the digestive tract. Good sources of soluble fiber are oat bran, apples, citrus fruits, oatmeal, carrots, and beans.

A diet rich in fiber provides you with many health benefits:

  • Normalized bowel movements: Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it, making it easier to pass and decreasing your chance of constipation. Increasing the amount of fiber in the diet may help sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Helps maintain bowel health: A diet rich in fiber may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon known as diverticular disease. Researchers are also studying the role fiber has in preventing diseases of the colon.
  • Lowers blood cholesterol levels: Soluble fiber foods such as beans, flaxseed, and oats may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by reducing low-density lipoprotein ("bad") cholesterol levels. Studies are also showing that increased fiber in the diet has other heart-health benefits such as helping lower blood pressure and inflammation.
  • Helps control blood sugar levels: Soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar, improving blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Foods high in insoluble fiber has been linked to a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Aids weight loss: High-fiber foods make you feel full and require more chewing time, signaling your brain that you've had enough to eat.

Tip: Ensuring that you get enough fiber in your diet each day is easy, but keep in mind that while high-fiber foods are good for your health, adding too much too fast can result in excess gas and stomach bloating. Instead, increase the amount of fiber in your diet slowly over a period of a few weeks. And remember to drink plenty of water.

Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet