Q: I always hear about fiber. Why is that so critical to a healthy diet? And what is the right ratio of fiber to carbs?

A: Fiber is the “F word” that everyone should use more frequently. Many people only think about fiber for digestive health, but it does so much more than help you stay regular. Fiber helps you debloat, digest better and even turn on your body's natural ability to lose weight.

First, let's start off by defining what it is: Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that is found in plants. Whereas most carbohydrates are broken down into sugar molecules, fiber passes through the body undigested. As it does so, it takes with it bile acids, which helps to decrease cholesterol levels. Fiber also takes a while to be digested, which helps keep you feeling full and plays a role in regulating hunger. Lastly, it adds bulk to the waste product in your intestines and contributes to digestive regularity.

Fiber and Weight Loss

A recent study found that the more fiber someone eats the more they lose weight, even if all other factors remain the same, reports WebMD. Those who added more fiber to their diet lost almost as much weight as dieters who followed a low-fat eating plan recommended by the American Heart Association.The study added to the mounting research that people who eat more fiber weigh less than their counterparts who eat fewer grams of fiber daily.

While high-fiber foods tend to be healthy, what proved even more relevant to the weight loss study was that ta diet high in fruits and vegetables was easier to stick to than the other, more structured approach. Fiver moves through the body without elevating blood sugar, so one reason for the weight loss results may have been related to the fact that when you eat a high fiber diet, insulin levels stay even, and the body never gets the signal to "store extra calories as fat" but just instead either burns them off or moves them along through the digestive track and out.

Fiber Helps Fight Disease

But that’s not all-- eating a high fiber diet has been linked to a reduction in many serious diseases. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that everyone consume plenty of daily fiber from plant foods, because “higher intakes of dietary fiber reduces the risk of developing several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, and have been associated with lower body weights.”  Yet, with only 1 in 10 American adults eating enough veggies, most people don’t meet their daily fiber needs.

How to Get More Fiber in Your Diet

Women should eat 25 grams of fiber daily, while men need 38 grams. Fiber is most abundant in fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans and legumes. If you’re looking to up your fiber game, start by filling half of your plate at every meal with a combination of fruits and vegetables. Many plant-based proteins, like beans, legumes and soy, are also rich in fiber, so make sure you get plenty of protein at each meal. You’ll also find it in processed foods, but don’t be fooled.

Look at the nutrition label and do the math to compute the carbs to fiber ratio. If it’s around a 6:1 or 5:1 ratio, that's five carb grams to 1 fiber gram, you know the product has plenty of fiber. If it’s higher than that, it might be worth choosing another option. For example, a slice of bread with 20 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fiber (4:1 ratio) is a better choice than one that has 20 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fiber (10:1).

Use these numbers more as a guideline than a hard and fast rule. You’re allowed to indulge in foods that you love that aren’t full of fiber, but try to make sure you get plenty of the “f word” every day to ensure a happy and healthy life.

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