Dietary fiber is not a nutrient you often hear about, but it has many important roles in our bodies.
Nutritionists talk about it as a source of soluble, insoluble, and fermentable fibers.
In this article, we are going to talk about what dietary fiber is and why we need it.
What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber is any substance that is not digested by the human body and therefore is excreted by the body.
The main dietary fiber components are carbohydrates, such as cellulose, lignin, and pectins. Dietary fibers are also classified on a scale of soluble-to-insoluble depending on whether they dissolve in water or not.
Types of dietary fiber
Soluble fibers dissolve in water and form a gel-like mass in the gut. When there is a high amount of soluble fiber in one’s diet, this will help to create intestinal gas within the colon and soften the stool. The main sources of soluble fiber are oats, beans, and lentils.
Insoluble fibers pass through the digestive tract relatively intact. The main sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Insoluble fibers help stimulate bowel movement. In addition to that, they absorb water from food in the gut and make it softer to eliminate it from the body.
The recommended dietary fiber intake per day is 25 grams for adults 18 years and older and 38 grams for children ages four to 17 years.
The recommended intake for infants aged six to 11 months is 2 grams per day. The recommended intake for children from one to three years old is 6 grams, for four to eight years old, 10 grams, and for nine to 13 years old 20 grams.
Food sources of dietary fiber
1. Whole wheat bread, bran cereal, and oatmeal
The main source of dietary fiber is whole grains like wheat, oat, and barley.
Oatmeal contains a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan that may help to prevent heart disease. Oats are also great sources of insoluble fiber. Whole wheat bread is one of the best sources of dietary fiber, which is why it has become very popular in recent years.
2. Most fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are great sources of dietary fiber. They contain both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Some great sources of soluble fiber are bananas, apples, berries, and citrus fruits. Some great sources of insoluble fiber are dark green vegetables, carrots, and red peppers.
3. Nuts and seeds
Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are some of the best sources of fiber in this category. They contain more insoluble fiber than other foods. When nuts and seeds are eaten raw, there is an added benefit of the beneficial oils they contain.
Legumes contain soluble fibers that help lower cholesterol levels and high amounts of insoluble fibers that help stimulate a bowel movement. They include lentils, split peas, soybeans, and kidney beans.
Low-fat dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, and milk contain a source of soluble fiber called beta- glucocerebrosides, a prebiotic. The prebiotic will help the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon.
Benefits of dietary fiber
1. Normalizes bowel movements
Dietary fiber helps to improve bowel movements by forming a gel-like mass within the colon. When the gel mass is high enough, and the stool is soft, it will move through the colon without straining. In addition to that, dietary fiber has a role in removing absorbed water from food in the gut, which will make it easier for the stool to leave the body.
Dietary fiber also helps to keep the digestive tract healthy by providing a protective layer against harmful bacteria and viruses.
2. Helps to regulate blood pressure
Dietary fiber can help to lower blood pressure. Fiber does not contain any fat or cholesterol, and it has a low glycemic index. The food containing the highest dietary fiber will also have a lower glycemic index.
3. Benefits the heart
Dietary fiber is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
This is because soluble fiber binds to bile acids and increases their excretion in the feces, which will lead to lower amounts of cholesterol in the blood plasma. Some studies show that dietary fiber can help reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease by up to 20%.
4. Helps maintain or lose weight
Dietary fiber helps individuals to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight. This is because it does not contain any calories and bulk up food, which will help to eat less. Fiber helps to fill you up to eat less of other high-calorie foods such as fats and sugars.
5. Helps to prevent diabetes
Diets high in fiber are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. This is because dietary fibers are a great source of soluble dietary fiber, a prebiotic that helps increase good bacteria in the gut. This can help to reduce blood glucose and improve insulin resistance.
6. Reduces the risk of colorectal cancer
Dietary fiber has been linked to lower rates of colorectal cancer. This is because it helps prevent the proliferation of harmful bacteria that may damage the colon cells and increase the risks of colon cancer.
7. Helps to prevent diverticular disease
High levels of soluble fiber help make stools softer, which may lower the risk of diverticular disease. Diverticulitis is a condition that affects the intestinal tract by causing it to have small bulges or pockets called diverticula. Diverticular disease occurs when these bulges become inflamed and cause pain and bleeding.
8. Helps to lower cholesterol levels
Dietary fiber lowers total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This is because it helps prevent the formation of bile acids and increases their excretion in the feces. Bile acids tend to be more soluble than triglycerides and can easily pass through the intestines. The bile acids are readily absorbed into the bloodstream, where they are changed into less harmful compounds that the kidneys can excrete.
9. Helps to maintain healthy skin and hair
Dietary fiber helps to keep skin and hair in good condition because it acts as a softener, lubricant, humectant, and preservative. Dietary fiber contains both soluble and insoluble fibers. When insoluble fiber comes in contact with water, the water will form a gel-like mass that acts as a lubricant to keep the skin, hair, and nails healthy.
Fiber supplements and fortified foods
The most common fiber supplement that individuals take is a fiber supplement.
This is the most convenient way to increase your dietary fiber intake and help relieve constipation.
Fiber supplements should be taken at the recommended dosage on the label. If you are taking a dietary fiber supplement, it is a good idea to drink 8-10 glasses of water every day to help relieve any constipation that may occur.
Fortified foods have been enriched with beneficial nutrients to improve their nutritional value and health benefits. The most common type of fortified food is breakfast cereals, enriched with vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, folate, and iron. Most cereal manufacturers fortify their cereals with fiber to increase the fiber intake of individuals.
Tips for fitting in more fiber
1. Switch to whole grains
There is a reason why many diets tell you to eat at least 3-4 servings of whole grains daily. Whole grains are low on the glycemic index, so they won’t spike your blood sugar and cause you to become hungry quickly. They also contain soluble and insoluble fiber, which can help to regulate your bowel movements.
2. Add more legumes
In addition to whole grains, individuals need to include legumes in their diet. Legumes are a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are also low on the glycemic index and can be used for weight loss. The most common types of legumes include lentils, beans, chickpeas, and peanuts.
3. Add fruits and vegetables
It is a good idea to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Fruits and vegetables contain a wide range of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help to lower blood pressure, increase energy levels and prevent certain types of cancer. As a bonus, fruits and vegetables may also help reduce your risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes.
4. Add fiber supplements
In addition to adding more fiber-rich foods to your diet, it is also a good idea to increase your intake of soluble and insoluble fiber supplements. It would be best to try to consume at least 2 or 3 tablets each day, as mentioned above.
5. Choose low-fat dairy products
Fiber can also be found in low-fat dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese. Some low-fat cheeses can contain up to 5 grams of fiber, which is about 10% of the daily recommended value.
7. Add seeds
It is also a good idea to add additional seeds to your diet. Seeds are a great source of fiber, which helps to keep you feeling full in between meals. The most common seeds that can be added to your diet include flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.
In conclusion, when looking to get more fiber into your diet, try to consume foods rich in both soluble and insoluble.
Many fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans contain both types of fiber. If you are not sure what type of fiber is in a food you are eating, then it may be best to pick an item low on the glycemic index as it has a healthier effect on your blood sugar levels.
Dietary fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet, which will help to prevent many diseases and health disorders.