Between all the buzz words and fads that go hand in hand with our diets these days, it’s hard to tell what is true and what is just the “next big thing”. However, fiber is not one of those. Fiber is one nutrient that is absolutely important and necessary, even vital, to your diet. Eating a diet rich in fiber is necessary to keeping many of your bodily functions moving smoothly.
What is Fiber?
As important as a fiber is to your diet, not many people know what it really is. It’s basically the part of plant-based foods that your body cannot digest or absorb. It is commonly referred to as “roughage”. It is classified as an indigestible carbohydrate. However, the fact that the body doesn’t absorb it isn’t a bad thing, and fiber isn’t like other carbohydrates. It’s also much lower in calories. For one thing, it can promote healthy digestion, and it can even help you to lose weight, in addition to helping aid your body against disease.
The Benefits of Fiber
Although fiber isn’t digested by the body, it is good for the body in many other ways. Fiber increases the immune function of the gut, feeding the good probiotic material found there. It keeps the digestive lining healthy, absorbing and pulling out excess hormones, cholesterol, fat, and toxins from the body. Then it continues its path through the intestines and the colon, and then out of your body, taking these harmful substances out with it.
Many of the common health problems people experience, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, can originate from a poor or sluggish digestive system that is caused by build-up or blockage in the colon. Fiber helps to digest foods you eat, assisting them in their natural exit.
However, fiber’s benefits don’t just clean us out, although that is the most commonly known benefit of fiber:
- Fiber slows down the rate at which your body absorbs sugars into the bloodstream, helping to maintain blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
- Fiber lowers bad cholesterol, aiding in a healthy heart.
- Fiber makes you feel full faster, giving you more control of your appetite and weight.
- Fiber keeps the digestive system healthy, which prevents constipation and related conditions such as diverticulitis.
- Fiber reduces the risk of certain cancers, including breast and colon cancer.
Types of Fiber
There are two main types of fiber, both of which are important to your health:
Insoluble fiber adds the materials needed to clean out the colon and regulate bowel movements. This roughage acts like a sponge, absorbing water, swelling inside the intestine, and giving you that feeling of fullness that tells you to stop eating. As it moves through the digestive system, it removes waste, toxins, and materials the body doesn’t need.
Soluble fiber enters the body through fruits, some vegetables, brown rice, beans, barley, peas, lentils, oats, and bran. Soluble fiber mixes with water and digestive enzymes made by the liver, creating a substance that is similar to gel. The “gel” creates a chemical reaction inside the body that prevents and reduces the body’s absorption of harmful substances. The soluble fibers are what help control blood sugar and cholesterol.
How Much Fiber Do You Need?
Due to the consumption of processed foods and red meats that Americans consume, we generally do not consume nearly enough fiber a day. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends eating at least nine servings (2 cups) of fiber-filled fruits, like apples and oranges, and vegetables like peas and broccoli. It’s important to build this intake slowly to prevent cramps or blockage and to stay hydrated to support this process.
The recommended daily fiber intake for adults is 10-13 grams for every 1,000 calories you consume.
Using Fiber to Combat Constipation
When you’re constipated, fiber truly is your best friend in solving the issue. Both soluble and insoluble fibers can help fight constipation. They will both clean out your colon efficiently. Soluble fiber’s water absorption means it will help you pass larger and softer stools, making them easier to pass, while insoluble fiber will add bulk to your stool, helping you to pass the blockage quickly.
Some foods that are especially fibrous and helpful in constipation are:
- Dried fruit
- Air-popped popcorn
- Bran cereal
- Baked potato
Eating these foods will have your constipation cleared up quickly and effectively.
The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.