What is fiber and why do we need it in our diet? Fiber is technically the undigested and un-absorbed parts of the foods you eat. We need high fiber foods in our diet for a multitude of reasons that we will discuss. Most fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grain and legumes. Fiber can help regularity by giving your bowel movements bulk, viscosity and fermentation.
Bulk: bulk is needed in your stools to help keep bowel movements regular. People should be having daily bowel movements in order to prevent things like diverticulitis. You can get bulk from both soluble and insoluble fibers. Examples of high bulking fiber: psyllium and cellulose.
Viscosity: This is the thickening of stools and the type of fiber that reabsorbs certain nutrients. These fibers can reabsorb bile acids, cholesterol and sugars. These types of fiber can aide in weight management by slowing gastric emptying and increasing the feeling of fullness. Can be both soluble and insoluble. Examples of high viscose fibers: beta-glucan, pectins, guar-gum
Fermentation: Fermentable fibers produce helpful short chain fatty acids as a byproduct of being broken down in the large intestine. These short chain fatty acids can improve your health by effecting how your body uses insulin and suppresses cholesterol production. They also help regulate colon PH to protect against polyps and increase dietary absorption. Examples of high fermentable fibers: inulin and oliogsaccharicdes.
All dietary fiber can be divided into two main categories: soluble and insoluble.
This type of fiber dissolves in water and can also re-absorb water. This causes stool to thicken and slow down digestion. Soluble fiber helps your body in many ways:
- Aides in regular bowel movements by thickening stool and adding bulk.
- Absorbs extra cholesterol allowing it to leave the body instead of being re-absorbed into the blood stream.
- Helps slow down gastric emptying to help keep you full longer. This can help with calorie control to aide in weight loss or weight maintenance.
- Provides beneficial short chain fatty acids when broken down.
- Can help reduce episodes of diarrhea by thickening stools.
- Can help regulate blood glucose levels by slowing digestion of carbohydrates.
Sources of soluble fiber in foods:
- Legumes: including beans, peas and soybeans.
- Oats, rye, chia seeds and barley
- Some fruits: figs, apples, banana, plums, prunes, berries, pears.
- Certain vegetables: broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, artichoke
- Root Vegetables: sweet potatoes, onions, turnips
- Some seeds: flax seed, chia seeds, psyllium husk
- Some nuts, especially almonds
These fibers are unable to absorb much water or nutrients. They are harder to break down and ferment. These fibers mostly help with adding bulk to your stool. They help you increase regularity in bowel movements.
Sources of insoluble fiber:
- Whole grain foods including quinoa, brown rice and foods made from whole grains
- Wheat bran
- Whole nuts and seeds
- Potato skins
- Some vegetables: green beans, celery, zucchini, cauliflower.
- Unripe bananas
- The skins of vegetables
How much fiber do you need?
Women need about 25 grams per day
Men need 30-38 grams per day
As you can see, fiber can help with a majority of GI tract regulation. It is found in most of the healthy functional foods that grow in nature. Most foods with fiber are also packed with vitamins and minerals. Try to fit in 2 fruits, 3-4 servings of vegetables daily. Switch from white flour products to whole grains. Doing this can help you increase your fiber intake daily.