What's missing from your diet

If there's one thing you need to know about fiber, it's this: You're almost certainly not getting enough benefits of fiber.

You're not getting enough to meet mainstream guidelines, and you're not getting enough to meet the higher levels I recommend to my own patients -- and it could be hurting you in more ways than you realize.

Fiber, as I'm sure you know, is essential to digestion and helps to ensure that you're not straining at toilet time.

But you might not realize that fiber is as important to your heart as it is to your belly -- and if you don't get enough, you could face serious risks, including a higher risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome, according to one new study of the benefits of fiber. 

This isn't just a coincidental link. Fiber is filling, reducing your appetite and helping to make sure you don't overeat. Fiber also clings to fat, escorting it out of your body instead of onto your waistline.

Fiber is also great at reducing inflammation, which is why the new study finds that people who miss out have higher levels of it. And inflammation is the great-granddaddy of risk factors, causing or contributing to diabetes, heart disease, dementia, cancer and more.

If the damage ended there, it would be reason enough to bring on the bran and beans -- but that's really only the beginning. The benefits of fiber help with cholesterol control, blood-sugar regulation, hormone balance and more.

It's even a terrific all-natural detoxifier.

No wonder studies have consistently shown that people with more dietary fiber live longer, healthier lives. One study out of the Netherlands even found that every 10-gram boost in daily fiber intake could reduce your risk of death from heart disease by 17 percent, and your risk of death from all causes by 9 percent.

But like I said earlier, most people are falling short, and not just by a few grams here and there.

Many people are getting just a fraction of the fiber they need: Just 16.2 grams per day on average, according to the study of 23,000 Americans tracked for more than a decade.

That's far below the 30-38 grams a day for men and 21-25 grams a day for women recommended by the Institute of Medicine, and not even close to the 40-50 grams a day I recommend to my own patients.

It's barely a third of what you really need, and in my opinion the low-fiber modern diet, which is high in processed foods, is a major reason for the surge in chronic disease in recent years.

It's time to change that for yourself and your family.

The answer isn't in fiber chews or bulk supplements, as many of them contain sweeteners and coloring agents you don't need.

It's in replacing your low-fiber foods -- especially processed foods -- with whole foods rich in the fiber your body needs. Good sources of fiber include apples, bananas, berries, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, artichokes and broccoli. These are the best sources to ensure you don't miss out on any of the health benefits of fiver.

Not coincidentally, all of these delicious foods are at the heart of the Mediterranean Diet -- the same diet proven to protect the heart, reduce the risk of stroke and extend lives.

And as I told you last week, it can protect your brain, too. Read more in this free report from my House Calls archives.