Fiber is not a new health word. The importance of getting the correct about of dietary fiber is not a new “health gimmick” either. And some may still ask, “Is fiber really all that important?”
The answer is, “Absolutely!” There are numerous scientific research studies that now prove that fiber plays an important role in protecting us from common every day illnesses to the more serious chronic diseases that are prevalent today. Here are a few of the illnesses that can be prevented when adequate amounts of dietary fiber are ingested: constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis (an intestinal disorder), diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and colon cancer.
Dietary fiber comes in several forms and plays a significant role in the healing process that take place within our bodies. Dietary fiber is essential in maintaining good health.
When you eat the proper amounts of fiber on a daily basis you will find that you eat less because you feel fuller and more satisfied. The food you consume will pass more quickly through your digestive system and less apt to be stored as fat. Studies show that when people increase their dietary fiber intake they tend to lose weight even if they don’t change their other eating habits. Just think of the results you could have if you did both.
Today, the average American adult consumes only about 15 grams of dietary fiber a day, which is about half of what an adult should eat in order to provide the beneficial qualities to prevent illness.
So where does dietary fiber come from? What are the best sources of dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber comes only from plant foods – whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Please note that there is NO fiber in animal foods, only plant-based foods. The main function of fiber as it moves through the digestive system is to absorb water. Through this process, unlike that of fat, protein, and most starches, it stays undigested for much or all of the way. It travels through the small intestine and enters the large intestine (colon) mostly undisturbed.
Two Main Types of Fiber
There are two main forms of fiber – insoluble, which remains undigested, and soluble, which is almost totally digested in the large intestine. Since both forms play distinctly different roles in our overall health we need to get adequate amounts of both types. And as God knew best, many high fiber plant-based foods have both types of fiber. How awesome!
The insoluble form of fiber is found mainly in grains and adds bulk to the diet and relieves constipation. This form of fiber also speeds up the digestive process allowing the food to move more quickly through our intestinal tracts, which reduces the exposure of harmful toxins, and ultimately guards us against colon cancer.
Insoluble fiber is found in the stems, peels, woody stalks, and skins of fruits and vegetables and in the bran (outer coat or husk) of whole grains and tend to be crisp and crunchy.
The three plant components containing the most insoluble fiber are: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. It is because of these components that water is absorbed as they travel through the digestive tract and the reason they stay mostly intact throughout the process, also called “transit time.”
The overwhelming benefits of eating a high fiber diet and having a “quick” transit time are:
- With regular and easier bowel movements the fiber pushes waste out of the bowel before it has a chance to form hard stools, which can lead to hemorrhoids for many adults.
- Less chance of having intestinal-related problems and an increase in amount that is eliminated.
- Have softer stools that pass more quickly without any strain and discomfort.
- Stools don’t petrify and become stranded or impacted in the bowel, which can lead to another chronic digestive disorder, diverticulitis.
- Considered the best defense against colon cancer.
The soluble fiber, found in beans, oat bran, and many fruits and vegetables, binds to cholesterol and removes it from the body, which reduces the chance of heart disease. Soluble fiber also slows down the release of sugars into the bloodstream, which is a blessing if you’re diabetic.
Soluble fiber is mostly all digested, therefore it doesn’t create bulk, but before it is broken down it creates a gel as it absorbs water in the intestinal tract. It is thought that because of this gel, soluble fibers like pectin (a gummy substance that helps to hold the plant cell walls together and is found in most vegetables and fruits, especially in the flesh of apples or the stringy membranes of citrus sections) and gums tend to slow down the body’s digestion of food.
Soluble fiber provides a number of benefits to your body:
- After eating a meal of high-fiber, the fiber slows the absorption so there is a more gradual release of carbohydrates into the body.
- Lowers LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol) without significantly decreasing the level of HDL (high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol), which provides protection against heart disease.
- Decreased formation of gallstones, due to a build up of cholesterol in the bile.
- Depending on the type, many diabetics are able to reduce their insulin needs from 25 to 100 percent.
- Pectin is considered one of the best protections against cholesterol-related problems.
How to Get Adequate Fiber Daily?
Your best plan is to get your daily fiber quota from eating a variety of plant foods – fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. By doing so, you’ll find yourself eating healthy fiber rich foods, containing vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other phytonutrients and low in fat and calories. This is one sure way to reduce unwanted weight and maintain a healthy weight.
When you eat fiber rich foods, it’s important also to be well hydrated. You need to consume liquids equivalent of six to eight glasses a day. I recommend pure water as your primary source for hydration. With eating an increase of insoluble fiber, which acts like a sponge in the digestive tract, you want to reduce any risk of dehydration.
Obesity Weight Loss Solved!
A diet consisting of fiber-rich foods is one of your best defenses against being over weight and preventing obesity. Since most high fiber foods have to be chewed quite a bit this process give your taste buds an opportunity to register satisfaction.
Once these fibrous foods move into your stomach it is its job to break down and liquefy the foods in order for it to exit. High fiber foods are much tougher for your stomach to break down and it takes more time to produce the digestive juices, hormones, and enzymes needed to complete the job. As a result, your stomach remains fuller longer and sends the message that you’ve had enough to eat.
The good news, if you increase your dietary fiber intake by eating more whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, you’ll find you are more satisfied on fewer calories and less hungry for fattening foods.
Remember the insoluble fiber acts as a bulking agent, which should prevent constipation. The sooner your food is digested and moves on through your digestive system the less time for fat to be absorbed. This also means your energy levels most likely will remain steady and you won’t experience sluggish periods.
The soluble fiber foods – oat bran, beans, barley, and some fruits and vegetables – help keep the blood sugar levels stable. This will prevent the sudden energy peaks and dips keeping your appetite balanced. Otherwise, the ups and downs tend to lead to binge eating.
If your goal is to lose weight then focus on the highest fiber rich foods available. The list of high fiber foods includes your complex carbohydrates – whole grain foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and beans. One of the best “diet” foods you can choose is beans. A cup of most varieties is approximately 250 calories. They contain almost no fat and are a good source of protein allowing you to cut back on the high fatty meats and empty-calorie foods, and they are good sources of iron, calcium, phosphorus, and B vitamins.
In order to be proactive with your health, you need to understand the importance of dietary fiber and the role it plays. I will continue this article next time by providing a list of high fiber foods, including my favorites.
To your good health,