Fiber – it’s that thing we know we’ve heard of and is supposed to keep us healthy. Surely everyone has been advised to “Eat more fiber!” But what is fiber, and why is it so integral to good health? What does fiber do in order to reign in the claim that it can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and even forms of cancer?
The Basics of Fiber
Unlike fats, proteins, or other carbohydrates, fiber cannot be digested by our bodies. Once consumed, fiber makes its way through one’s entire digestive tract. It is in this process that fiber brings a ton of health benefits, but before we get into that, let’s understand some specifics on fiber types.
Insoluble Fiber: Insoluble fiber is metabolically inert fiber. In other words, there is no breaking this down this down as its makes its way through your stomach, in turn expediting passage of food and waste.
Soluble Fiber: Soluble fiber attracts water to form a gel. This slows digestion and helps give the body a sense of “fullness.” Although soluble fiber is different from insoluble fiber, they both carry great health benefits.
The Health Benefits
Overall, fiber will always be a part of a healthy diet. Unfortunately, though, most Americans are far below on their fiber intake, averaging 15 grams a day. This is roughly half as much fiber as people should be eating, especially for men. Women should look at consuming 28 grams/day while men should shoot for 30-38 grams. Although you don’t need to focus on one particular fiber type (most food will contain both), here are the specific benefits of each!
Insoluble: As stated above, insoluble fiber is metabolically inert, which means two things for the body: first, this adds bulk to the process and reduces constipation; and second, this acts as a laxative. By removing more toxic waste in your stomach in less time, insoluble fibers helps to regulate pH levels in the intestines (protecting your from colon cancer) and promote regular bowel movements that pass with ease. More fiber not only helps with waste passage, but also boosts the health of your stomach!
Soluble: Soluble fiber comes with its own set of benefits. First off, soluble fibers binds with fatty acids. Eating more of this fiber often results in a lowering of LDL (bad cholesterol), reducing one’s risk for heart disease. In addition to that, soluble fiber delays the emptying of your stomach and, in effect, sugar. With sugar being absorbed and released more slowly, those with diabetes are better able to control blood sugar.
As mentioned above, there’s not much need to select a specific fiber type to go after. Eating heart healthy foods is often the best way to ensure your body is getting plenty of fiber. Some good sources to consider are: dark leafy vegetables, wheat bran, whole wheat products, oat bran, flax seed, fruits, and assorted nuts.
You may even want to consider starting a diet tracking program to determine whether or not you’re getting enough fiber. The nice thing about a fiber deficiency is that it is easily corrected with a little time and effort!