In this article, learn about the different types of fiber, associated health benefits, and tips to increase fiber content in your diet.
You probably have heard that fiber is good for you. But most people get about half the recommended amount of fiber daily. Are you one of those, just like many others are?
Dietary fiber is contained in the plants we eat, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It’s sometimes called roughage or bulk. Much of it passes through your digestive system and is excreted from your body, mostly unchanged. Though your body can’t digest most of it, surprisingly, it helps digestion.
“Some people might think that since it’s not digestible, it’s useless. But the fact is that a higher intake of fiber from all food sources is truly beneficial,” says Fitness Buffhq, the nutritionist at Just Fitness Hub.
Types of Fiber
The main two types of fiber can affect your body in different ways. This is why the Nutrition Facts labels on some foods may list two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. However, generally, food labels do not always list soluble and insoluble fiber separately.
Many foods have both. And both categories have health benefits. Experts recommend that men should aim for about 38 grams of fiber per day and women about 25 grams. Unfortunately, in the United States, people eat an average of only 16 grams of fiber daily.
Note: Soluble fiber is contained in oats, beans, peas, and most fruits. Insoluble fiber is contained in wheat bran and some vegetables.
Fiber Health Benefits
Some of fiber’s most significant benefits are related to cardiovascular health. Many studies have shown that people who eat enough fiber have lesser risks of heart disease.
High fiber consumption—especially soluble fiber—protects against many heart-related problems. For example, evidence supports that high dietary fiber intake reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol concentrations in the blood and lowers the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Digestion and Bowel Movements
Fiber helps relieve constipation and ease bowel movements. In addition, you can use insoluble fiber to prevent or treat constipation and diverticular disease, which affects the colon or large intestine.
Fiber also plays a role in lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes. The fiber in the intestines slows down the absorption of sugar, which can help prevent blood sugar from spiking. For diabetic patients, it helps to keep glucose levels from peaking too much.
Note: Though high fiber intake may provide some protection, the best way to lower your diabetes risk is to exercise and keep your weight in control.
Weight is another area where fiber can be helpful. High-fiber foods usually make us feel fuller for longer. This is because fiber adds more bulk with fewer calories. In some studies, people were put on different types of diets; those on high-fiber diets typically ate about ten percent fewer calories. Some other extensive studies have shown that people with high fiber consumption tend to weigh less.
Scientists have also explored the association between fiber and different types of cancer. They found mixed results. For instance, there is some evidence that high consumption of dietary fiber may lower the risk of colon cancer and colon polyps.
A Fiber-Rich Diet
Experts advise that the type of fiber you eat is less important than ensuring that you get sufficient fiber overall. In general, you should not overthink the specific kind of fiber. Instead, it would be best to eat a variety of foods rich in fiber (whole grains, beans, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds) to get your daily fiber requirement.
Plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, contain more dietary fiber. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are also rich in vitamins and other nutrients. Therefore, experts recommend that you aim to get most of your fiber from these natural sources. Unfortunately, many people tend to go for low-fiber foods. They pick white bread or white rice. In addition, most processed foods—aka convenient foods—are low in fiber.
For people who struggle to get sufficient fiber from natural sources, stores are filled with packaged foods that claim to have added fiber. These fiber-fortified foods include cereals, yogurts, snack bars, ice cream, and juices. They mostly contain isolated soluble fibers, like inulin, maltodextrin, or polydextrose. These isolated fibers are included in the ingredients list shown on the product label.
But the health benefits of isolated fibers are not the same as those of the intact fibers contained in whole foods. For example, there’s little evidence that isolated fibers can help reduce blood cholesterol. Isolated fibers also have inconsistent effects on the regularity of bowel movements. On the positive side, some studies show they might improve the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
The conclusion is that most people need to include more fiber in their daily diet, regardless of the source. However, to maximize the benefits, you should pick more foods naturally high in fiber.
Take care to increase your fiber consumption gradually, so your body can adapt to it. Adding fiber slowly to your diet will help you avoid gas, bloating, and cramps. Eat different colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts to get a mix of different fibers and a wide range of nutrients from your diet.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq – Best Fitness Guru, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, the USA, obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me, age is just a number!”