Dietary fiber is a very important component of nutrition. There are a number of reasons why we need to consume this “roughage.” Fiber is the part of plant type foods that our body does not digest or absorb. The body doesn’t break it down once eaten, rather it passes through our digestive system. It is most commonly found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Generally, processed foods contain low amounts of fiber, and since so many of us consum too many processed foods this could explain today's high prevalence of inadequate dietary fiber intake.
There are 2 types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Once the fiber reaches the colon, these types differ in their performances...
- Soluble fiber: Sources include apples, citrus fruits, carrots, peas, oats, barely, and psyllium. This type of fiber dissolves in water. Its benefits include lowering cholesterol and glucose levels.
- Insoluble fiber: Sources include whole wheat, green beans, and cauliflower. This type of fiber assists the digestive tract to help food move through the system, making it beneficial for constipation and irregular bowels.
The benefits of soluble fiber are that it allows more water to remain in our stool, making our waste softer, larger and easier to pass through our intestines. The benefits of insoluble fiber are that it adds bulk to our feces, which makes its passage through our gut happen more quickly and prevents feeling constipated.
How much fiber do we need per day?
Men: Age 50 or younger need 38 grams, age 51 and older need 30 grams.
Women: Age 50 or younger need 25 grams, age 51 or older need 21 grams.
In order to meet these daily needs, the best source of fiber comes from whole foods. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and beans are excellent choices. Some food does have added fiber, like yogurt and granola bars, however, this has been known to cause gas and stomach discomfort for some people. There are also supplement products, like Metamucil, which you can add to your desired food or beverage.
We need fiber for our digestive health, particularly our bowels. Fiber makes our stools easier to pass and decreases constipation. It actually helps to add bulk to our stool, forcing movement in our intestines, which is a healthy occurrence.
Soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and inflammation. For diabetics, fiber is critical for blood sugar levels because it can help absorb sugar. Fiber is also important for weight management because foods high in fiber help you feel more full, offering the potential to then eat less. It can also help prevent diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Anything in excess can be bad, including fiber. Having too much fiber can lead to bloating, gas, and cramping. Too much help from fiber makes the stomach area crowded and backed up. Fiber is another reason to eat your fruits and vegetables. Your gut health is a primary concern, considering we eat to live. What goes in must come out, and fiber is that conductor making sure the path is clear for easy exit.