An estimated 95 percent of Americans do not get enough fiber in their diets, failing to meet their recommended daily intake of 14 grams per 1,000 calories. But forgetting to get your fill of this nutrient could be tremendously detrimental to both your weight loss efforts and your overall health.

Fiber is one of the main reasons that eating plenty of clean plant foods is so important. It is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and it consists of the parts of these plant foods that your body can't absorb or digest by itself.

The most well-known quality of fiber may be its role in making your stool both softer and bulkier, thus helping combat constipation and diarrhea. However, fiber's benefits go far beyond the bathroom!

Fiber comes in two main types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber can be dissolved by the body into a gel-like substance, which can then serve as food for the healthy bacteria in your gut, which are known as "gut flora."

Because most carbs, proteins and fats are absorbed into the bloodstream before they make it to the large intestine, they cannot serve as food for this gut flora; but though we don't have the enzymes necessary to digest soluble fiber, they sure can. Feeding our healthy gut bacteria is important for proper immune function, optimal brain function, and regulation of body weight and appetite.

Soluble fiber can also help boost the absorption of minerals like calcium while blocking the absorption of unhealthy fats and bad cholesterol. Plus, it can prevent blood sugar spikes by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates, which is why fruit is so much healthier for you than processed sugar, which causes an immediate rise in your glucose levels.

These attributes of soluble fiber work together to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 30 percent, with an estimated 9 percent drop in risk with every 7 grams of fiber eaten daily. A little bit can go a long way!

Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, is not digested at all, so it passes out of the body relatively intact, releasing no calories as it does so. By speeding up the movement of bad bacteria and other harmful toxins and carcinogens through and out of the body, insoluble fiber greatly reduces your risk of colon cancer, as well as other diseases of the intestine like hemorrhoids and diverticulitis.

Adequate fiber and healthy gut flora can also work to combat intestinal inflammation, leading to improvements in digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.

123Diet-friendly sources of soluble fiber include apples, blueberries and citrus fruits, while insoluble fiber is more easily found in vegetables and in the seeds and skins of fruit—so think twice about tossing out those peels! Beans, that famously "musical" food (the more you eat, the more you toot...), contain both!

Foods that contain more fiber are naturally more filling. This is because they are less energy dense, and thus take longer to eat. They can also soak up water in the intestine, further increasing feelings of fullness. Unfortunately, when fruits, vegetables and grains are canned or processed, much of their fiber is removed, so fresh is always best!

Finally, you should be aware that if you're not used to eating a lot of fiber, you may want to add it to your diet gradually; incorporating too much of it too quickly can cause increased intestinal gas, abdominal bloating, and cramping.

If you find that you're eating enough fiber and still having trouble with your regularity, you may want to ask your physician about a fiber supplement. However, if you can, it's best to stick to getting it from foods The kinds of healthy foods that are high in fiber are almost definitely high in vitamins and antioxidants as well!

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