When I go grocery shopping, I read the label. I have an idea of what some of it means but vaguely. I know I want more protein, less fat, more vitamins, fewer calories and so on and so forth. I also care about fiber. I know the more I see on a label, the happier my body will be. But did you ever really stop and think about fiber? I fear that all we know about fiber is something in food that makes bathroom time a little easier.

So, what is fiber? All we really know is that we need about 25 grams of the stuff per day.

Fiber is the edible but indigestible portion of plant-based foods. Foods rich in fiber include legumes, avocado, and apples to list a few. Notice how all of those things come from plants. Fiber then gets further broken into two categories: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.

Soluble Fiber: Soluble fiber is known as soluble because it dissolves in water. It then turns into a jelly like substance (expanding) and attaches to fatty acids in your intestines to slow the digestion of food. It also prolongs stomach emptying time so that sugar is released and absorbed more slowly. This explains why you feel fuller longer when you eat fiber rich food as opposed to meals with empty calories. You can find this type mainly in legumes and root vegetables. Since it attaches to the fatty acids, soluble fiber can be compared to a sponge.

Insoluble Fiber: Insoluble doesn’t dissolve in water and leaves your body much the same way it came in. This is the type of fiber that the writer was talking about when he said “poop yourself thin.” It adds bulk to your stool which will help waste move through your digestive track easily as well as balance the pH in your intestines. By removing waste in less time, you get regular bowel movements and prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber actually helps exercise your digestive system.

Fiber not only helps you feel full longer, there are other benefits. By consuming fiber rich foods, your diet will be filled with more nutritious options. Other healthy benefits include a healthier gastrointestinal system, fiber regulates blood sugar levels which can help avoid diabetes, and soluble fiber is believed to have a positive influence on cholesterol, triglycerides, and other particles in the blood that affect the development of heart disease. The list goes on.

Unfortunately labels won’t say how much of each type of fiber you’re getting in a given food but that would be a nice feature. The good news though is that there are tons of food out there filled with fiber and some easy switches you can make to get more, such as:

- Choose whole fruits and vegetable, peels included. Eating a whole fruit will keep you full longer compared to juices.

- Choose whole grain products (cereal, pasta, etc) over the refined products. It will cost more to go whole grain but stores like Wal-Mart are making it more affordable. For a healthier YOU, try and look for the healthier stuff when it’s on sale and stock up.

- Swap white flour with whole wheat flour in baked goods. You don’t have to switch it all out, just mix some whole wheat flour with white.

- Swap white rice with brown rice. The American diet has made white rice a common thing at the dinner table but brown is just as good in taste if not better. Expect the only difference to be brown rice is a little grainier so you get a better taste sensation. If you want an even healthier option, check out the whole grain quinoa which can be substituted for rice.

- Add more legumes to your diet. Beans make an excellent side dish but be wary of brands that pile on sugar to their beans.

Don’t be alarmed about the 25 grams of fiber number. If you have a little here and a little there, it will add up by the time you get to bed. This is made even easier thanks to the trend of manufacturers to boost the fiber in their products. Fiber is essential in diets as well to help you feel fuller, longer and to keep your body happy.