I know for most of my avid readers, fiber is something that you all are familiar with and know a little something about it. I want to inform those who don’t know what fiber is and how it can benefit those that consume it.
What is fiber?
Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that can’t be digested and is necessary for the health of your digestive system. Fiber can be found in all plants, including fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. Current dietary guidelines recommend that adults consume between 26-35 grams of fiber daily. However, the average US fiber intake is only 4.5-11 grams a day.
What are the different types of fiber?
There are two principal types of fiber – soluble and insoluble:
Fiber / Fibra (Photo credit: . SantiMB .)
• Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber partially breaks down and dissolves in water to form a soft gel. Soluble fiber has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels by absorbing and excreting certain substances known to lead to high cholesterol. There is also some evidence that soluble fiber may lessen heart disease risks by reducing the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Studies find that people on high-fiber diets have lower total cholesterol levels and may be less likely to form harmful blood clots than those who consume less soluble fiber.
Soluble fiber can be found in oats, legumes, brown rice, barley, fruits (especially apples), some green vegetables (such as broccoli) and potatoes.
• Insoluble Fiber
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is mainly responsible for adding bulk to stools, making it easier and faster to pass through your digestive system. Insoluble fiber is like a sponge, swelling up and absorbing many times its weight in water.
Insoluble fiber can be found in wheat bran and whole grains, as well as the skins of many fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts and dried beans.
The Benefits of Fiber
Fiber is an essential component of a healthy diet. It keeps your digestive system healthy and functioning smoothly.
• Heart Health
Soluble fiber can help regulate blood sugar levels (by slowing the rate which sugar is absorbed by the body), and by lowering serum cholesterol, protecting against heart disease. As well, soluble fiber can possibly reduce excess blood fats and lower cholesterol.
• Weight Loss
Many people who are overweight have been shown to lose significant amounts of excess body fat simply by increasing the amount of dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber, in their daily diet.
Fibrous foods are often bulky and, therefore, filling. They also tend to be low in fat. Soluble fiber forms a gel that both slows down the time it takes to empty the stomach and the time for food to go through the digestive system. This extends the time a person feels full, while also delaying the absorption of sugars from the intestines – helping to maintain lower blood sugar levels and preventing a rapid rise in blood insulin levels, which has been linked with obesity and an increased risk of diabetes.
The extra chewing time often required of high fiber foods also helps contribute to feeling satisfied, and as a result, a person on a high fiber diet is likely to eat less food and so consume fewer calories.
• Cancer Protection
It has long been believed that increasing fiber intake will also help prevent certain cancers, such as colon cancer. There is a current debate going on in the scientific communities after a series of tests failed to show a concrete link between increased fiber consumption and a lower risk of developing cancer.
However, many argue that the antioxidants and flavanoids found in many high-fiber foods were key contributors to fiber’s cancer-preventing properties (the later studies were done using alternative fiber sources that lacked these cancer-fighting components). What is undisputable though is that a healthy, regular digestive system is necessary in the prevention of colon cancer, and getting enough fiber in your diet is essential for a healthy digestive system.