Fiber - what is it good for?
I'm certain many of you have heard the term "dietary fiber" before. But what exactly is dietary fiber?
Fiber can be classified as a carbohydrate, but more specifically it is the mostly indigestible portion of plant matter that is found in many different foods. This means we get very little nutrient energy from it. Things like cellulose, lignin, inulin, pectin are what we can call dietary fibers.
Is dietary fiber good for us? Is it required?
Well, to put it simply – dietary fiber assists our digestive system. It keeps our bowels healthy and digestive processes smooth and regular. In addition, consuming an adequate amount of fiber boosts numerous health markers and helps us with medical conditions like various forms of cancer, heart diseases, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. Thus their effects on health are considerable.
Based on various research, the recommended intake of dietary fiber for an adult is roughly 25-40g a day.
It is also recommended to increase the consumption of water while increasing fiber intake.
As-well as providing health benefits, higher fiber intake can also help dieting. Foods that are high in dietary fiber slow down digestion and bind with water, helping you stay full for longer, reducing the sensations of hunger. So all in all, you'll be less likely to over-eat.
When talking about dietary fiber it pays to talk about the different subtypes of fiber. Usually fiber is categorized into two categories:
1) Soluble Fiber
2) Insoluble Fiber
Soluble fibers dissolves in water and is often easily fermented into various gases and other active byproducts from which we can even absorb some nutrient energy. It can also be prebiotic, helping to boost the amount of helpful bacteria in the intestines. Soluble fiber usually helps turn the food/waste mass into soft viscous mass which then slowly, but smoothly passes through our intestines.
Good sources for soluble fiber are for example oats, rye, apples and bananas, onions, broccoli, various nuts –especially almonds and many other foods.
Insoluble fibers as the name suggests do not dissolve in water and thus they are often metabolically inert. Though in some cases they also do get fermented and can contribute to the creation of various gases and byproducts, as well as being prebiotic.
Generally, insoluble fiber promotes the movement speed of food mass/waste as it passes through us.
Good sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, wheat, celery, various fruit skins and also different nuts and seeds.
So as you can see, when talking about highly fibrous foods – we can expect to have a mix of both fiber types. Furthermore, the specific characteristics of these subtypes are not very clearly defined – and as such, most products that list fiber content do not specify the subtype but rather simply write the total "fiber".
Some good overall sources of fiber are:
1) Bran. Especially corn-bran which can be around 80% fiber. Wheat-bran is about 30%.
2) Cinnamon is about 50% fiber. But please pay attention to consume only "Ceylon" type cinnamon because the other varieties tend to be toxic in larger doses.
3) Cocoa powder is about 33%.
4) Flax and sesame seeds are about 25% fiber.
5) Dry roasted soy beans - 17%.
6) Dried tomatoes – roughly 12%.
7) Almonds – about 12%.
8) Sunflower seeds and beans are around 10% fiber.
It is quite common that not everyone enjoys an abundance of plant-based foods in their menu and that can lead to difficulties when trying to get the necessary fiber. In this case, it is worth to mention the supplements.
Fiber supplements make it very easy to get exactly the amount of fiber you need with minimal effort or changes to your diet.
As always, everything is good in moderation, so it is appropriate to mention that consuming too much fiber can result in excess gas, uncomfortable sensations and even constipation. It is important to note that water intake plays a big role here. So with that said, there is no fixed amount of fiber intake you have to follow strictly. But it is wise for anyone who cares about their health and the digestive system to at least get the minimum recommended amount every day.