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, explaining the 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 looking more like a gel. Its benefits include lowering cholesterol and glucose.
- 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.
How much do you 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 quality options. Supplements can also be an option. Some food does have added fiber like yogurts or granola bars. However, this substitute has been known to cause gas and stomach discomfort. There are also products like Metamucil on the market.
We need fiber for our digestive health, particularly our bowels. Fiber makes our stools easier to pass and decreases constipation. It is able to make the stools larger and bulkier which are easier to exit versus watery stool. It actually helps make the watery stool more solid. 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 these foods help you feel fuller, with the potential to then eat less. Feeling full can help ward off overindulgence. It can also help prevent diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Anything in excess can be bad. 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.