When you hear the words soluble fiber you might think of old people who need a little help getting things moving along in the bathroom. But soluble fiber is so much more than a cure for constipation (though it does that too), it is the cellular infrastructure of fruit and vegetables, pulses like beans, and nuts and seeds.

These whole foods rely on fiber molecules to create shape, stencil strength to grow (up toward the sun or in the case of roots like carrots down to absorb the minerals from the soil), and unlike animals and humans who have our muscular-skeletal framework, fiber only exists in plants.

Fiber helps you lose weight, lower cholesterol, and keep blood sugar steady

So what does fiber do in our bodies? Fiber, and specifically soluble fiber, can help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight, lower your cholesterol and keep blood sugar from spiking, which is essential for anyone trying to reverse or treat diabetes or prediabetes. Fiber has also been shown to lower risk of heart disease, and even protect against certain cancers including colon cancer, which now is a disease that effects people at every age and lifestage.

In one study, 345 people recorded the amount of fiber they ate over six months, and the more fiber they added to their diet, the more they were able to stay on a low-calorie diet and succeed at weight loss. In another study of people taking statins to regulate their cholesterol, when they added psyllium, a natural soluble fiber, to their diet, it resulted in lowering their LDL (or bad) cholesterol significantly more than those who took statins alone without the fiber.

What is the difference between soluble fiber and insoluble fiber

There are two types of fiber and both have major health benefits to help your digestive system do its job and protect you from heart disease, inflammation and other lifestyle diseases. The more fiber you have, of soluble and insoluble, the healthier your gut microbiome will be, the more steady your blood sugar and the less inflammation in the body. (A diet rich in red or processed meat has the opposite effect, driving up inflammation and risk of heart disease.

Here's the difference between soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, and where to find each. Try to get both in your daily diet.

  • Soluble fiber is the kind that down in water and forms a gel-like substance that helps slow down the absorption of food as it moves through the body, from the stomach to the intestines. Foods high in soluble fiber are beans, bananas, potatoes, apples, and pears as well as grains like oats and barley.
  • Insoluble fiber is sometimes called roughage because it does not break down in water.  Insoluble fiber helps move food through the lower half of your digestive tract, your lower intestines and colon, and helps your gut microbiome shift from unhealthy bacteria to healthy as they try to break down the hard-to-digest fiber particles. You get it in whole grain products as well as berries, grapes, carrots, and fruit peals, especially apple and pear peel.

Fiber helps keep things moving, but not too fast, through the digestive tract

Think of fiber as your dietary traffic cop that helps direct the food you eat through your system, helping it move steadily, as opposed to speeding, so that nutrients can get absorbed at a measured pace. Too fast, and macronutrients such as simple carbs in sugary sweets, sodas, white bread, rice, or pasta gets dissolved almost instantly, causing a rush of calories and energy to enter your bloodstream, which is great when you're out running a 10K but otherwise it triggers a spike your blood sugar, that in turn sends insulin surging.

But when you eat high-carb foods devoid of fiber, such as simple sugar, and you are not doing jumping jacks, your body realizes it can't use all that energy at that moment, so it sends it packing to your fat cells, to get stored for later use. If fiber is present, in the form of whole grains such as whole-wheat bread (look for 4 grams of fiber per slice) or quinoa or whole oats, then it slows down this rate of absorption and allows the body to take in the nutrients and calories in a way that it can use them up, not need to shunt them off to the fat storage units (our fat cells).

 Here is how to get more fiber into your diet

Start your day with oats, throw on a handful of blueberries, and avoid adding sugar to your oatmeal. Or choose a breakfast of avocado toast. Eat a big salad for lunch with beans, seeds and vegetables of all varieties and make yourself a dinner that includes rice and beans, since beans have the highest fiber count per ounce of food, other than seeds. Or have a whole wheat pasta with tomatoes and plant-based cheese for dinner.

How much fiber do you need in a day?

For men, the recommended daily requirement is 38 grams of fiber a day and for women, it's 25 grams a day, according to the Mayo Clinic. But those are minimums. Most Americans don't even get close, since 9 out of 10 adults don't reach their minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

If you think of it in calories, take in at least 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat. So if you eat 2,000 calories a day, get 28 or more grams of fiber a day.

Eat these 12 foods with some of the highest-fiber content per ounce

  • Kidney beans have 47 grams of fiber in one cup
  • Chickpeas have 35 grams of fiber in one cup
  • Pinto Beans have 30 grams of fiber in one cup
  • Chia Seeds have 10 grams of fiber per ounce
  • Guava: One cup has 9 grams of fiber
  • Raspberries: One cup of raw raspberries contains 8 grams of fiber
  • Avocado: One medium-sized avocado has 7 grams of fiber
  • Green peas have 7 grams in one cup
  • A persimmon has 6 grams of fiber
  • Pumpkin seeds have 5 grams of fiber per ounce
  • One mango has 5 grams of fiber
  • Apples: One medium apple has 4.5 grams of fiber

Bottom Line: As a matter of practice, add beans to your salads, eat more fruit as snacks, and choose whole grains over simple processed white rice, pasta, or bread. The more fiber you eat, the more your body will stay full for longer, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of major lifestyle diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.


More From The Beet