Dietary Fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes the parts of plant foods your body can’t digest or absorb. Unlike other components such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates which the body breaks down and absorbs, fiber is not digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon and out of your body.
Fiber, while not an essential nutrient, performs several vital functions. A natural laxative that keeps traffic moving through the intestinal tract and may also lower the concentration of cholesterol in the blood. Yet, people are often reluctant to implement a low-fat, high-fiber diet, out of concern that they won’t get enough calories and nutrients to satisfy the demands of the body. A high-fiber intake also supplies greater amounts of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and Folate, as well as the minerals, magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium and phosphorus.
Dietary fiber found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But foods containing fiber can provide other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.
Types of Fiber
Fiber is commonly classified as soluble, which dissolves in water, or insoluble, which doesn’t dissolve in water.
Soluble fiber: this type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fibers are found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.
Insoluble Fiber: This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.
The amount of these types of fiber varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, it is good to eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.
Benefits of consuming a high-fiber diet.
It normalizes bowel movement: Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it. A bulky stool is easier to pass, decreasing your chance of constipation. If you have loose, watery stools, fiber may help to solidify the stool because it absorbs water and adds bulk to stool.
It helps lower cholesterol levels in the body: Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that high-fiber foods may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
It helps maintain bowel health: A high-fiber diet may lower the risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease). Studies have also found that a high-fiber diet likely lowers the risk of colorectal cancer. Some fiber is fermented in the colon.
It helps control your blood sugar levels: In people with diabetes, fiber, particularly soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
It helps I achieving healthy weight: High-fiber foods tends to be more filling than low-fiber foods, so you’re likely to eat less and stay satisfied longer. high-fiber foods tend to take longer to eat and to be less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food
It helps you live longer: by reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and all cancers, it helps to increase individual lifespan and to live longer in good health.
Best Fiber Choices
If you aren’t getting enough fiber each day, there is need to boost your intake. Good choices include:
- Whole-grain products: wheat germ, wheat bran, whole-wheat bread and bread products, oat bran, rice bran, brown rice, barley
- Fruits: apples, oranges, grapefruits, blackberries, tomatoes, dates, raisins.
- Beans, peas and other legumes: cauliflower, broccoli, celery, potatoes, peas, beans, carrots, asparagus, artichokes, cucumbers, summer squash, parsley, Brussels sprouts.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Refined or processed foods – such as canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white breads and pastas, and non-whole-grain cereals are lower in fiber.