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Fiber

This powerhouse nutrient gives you that pleasant, sated feeling after meals, protects your heart, lowers your blood sugar levels, and yes, keeps you "regular."

What Fiber Does For The Body

Weight Loss

High-fiber foods keep you feeling full and satisfied long after finishing a meal. People who eat a lot of fiber should therefore feel the need to eat less over the course of a day—welcome news for those on a diet. In addition, fiber-rich foods also tend to be less caloric, making fiber paramount to weight loss. If losing weight on a high-fiber diet appeals to you, check out the F-Factor Diet.

Studies also show that people gain less weight on high-fiber diets than on low-fat diets.

Heart Health

Soluble fiber, the type of fiber that dissolves in water, turns into a gel-like substance as it moves through the body. (Most foods with fiber contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.) Found in seeds, citrus fruits, beans, carrots, lentils and oat bran, soluble fiber helps lower your low-density lipoprotein, or "bad cholesterol," your triglyceride levels and your blood pressure.

Embracing a high-fiber diet pays off in the long run. A Harvard study of 40,000 male health professionals showed that maintaining a high-fiber diet slashed the risk of cardiovascular disease by 40 percent. People who eat 2.5 or more servings of whole grain foods a day are 21 percent less likely to have heart disease than those who ate less than 2 servings of fiber a week.

Warding Off Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body has sustained high blood sugar levels. Fiber helps regulate glucose levels by slowing the absorption of sugar.

Several large studies have found that a diet high in cereal fiber can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. One meta-analysis of large studies that surveyed more than 700,000 men and women found that two extra servings of whole grains a day cuts the risk of type 2 diabetes by 21 percent.

Healthy Bowels

Adding soluble fiber to the diet relieves abdominal pain in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, according to a study conducted by the University Medical Center in Utrecht, Netherlands. Researchers found that participants who consumed two 10-gram doses of psyllium (a type of soluble fiber found in products like Metamucil) a day experience relief, compared to participants who either received similar doses of bran (which is insoluble fiber), or a placebo.

Insoluble fiber remains unchanged as it passes through the intestines. Insoluble fiber is what bulks up stool, so food and nutrients can be pushed through the digestive system efficiently. That's why fiber relieves both constipation and diarrhea.

There's more good news. Fiber in your diet lowers your risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticular disease, an inflammation of the intestine that occurs in one-third of North Americans over age 45. A high-fiber diet can lower your disk of diverticular disease by 40 percent.

Some studies have also found that fiber can protect against colon cancer, but the results are not conclusive. Larger, better-designed studies have failed to find a link between fiber and colon caner.

What happens if you don't have enough fiber: A lack of fiber can result in irregular bowel movements—specifically, constipation. Not getting the fiber your body needs can also lead you to overeat because your body doesn't feel full.

What happens if you have too much:

Too much fiber can cause intestinal gas, bloating and abdominal cramping. If you want to increase your fiber intake, introduce additional amounts slowly into your diet. Water helps the digestion of soluble fiber, so drink at least eight glasses a day to supplement the boost in fiber.

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