What is Fiber?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our bodies cannot digest. Once digested into the body most carbohydrates are broken down into sugar, or glucose molecules. Fiber is a little different because the molecules cannot be broken down to enter the blood stream thus they continue to pass through the digestive system. Fiber actually helps to regulate blood sugar, adds bulk to your stool (a good thing for digestion), and helps to regulate your hunger.
There are two main types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Within each category they further break down into other types of fiber with different roles they play in health.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water. Think of foods that absorb water making a thick liquid- like oatmeal and lentils. Soluble fiber helps to lower blood sugar and blood cholesterol. Generally soluble fibers can help alleviate diarrhea as well as help with constipation.
Types of soluble fiber include:
Inulin is found in wheat, onions, bananas, chicory plant (often used in supplement form), artichoke, Jerusalem artichokes and more. It is actually a type of prebiotic known for its beneficial effects on gut health. It is found in the roots of plants, because it helps plants to absorb water that is also how it acts in digestion. Inulin absorbs water in the digestive tract, can cling to cholesterol, making it good for heart health. It has also been found to increase the absorption of certain nutrients- specifically chicory root helps to increase calcium absorption in the body.
Psyllium is from the plant plantago ovata. It absorbs water and ferments in the gut making it a prebiotic and good to reduce inflammation as well as improve gut health. One of the benefits of psyllium compared to other fibers is that it does not increase flatulence, making it add bulk while also avoiding bloating and potential embarrassment….
Wheat Dextrin is extracted from the starch inside of whole wheat. It is similar to psyllium, also not causing as much bloating as other types of fiber and is added to food to increase fiber. *One thing to be aware of is that it does contain a small amount of gluten where as psyllium does not.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Think of adding wood chips to water, they would not mix with the water they would remain separate. For this reason generally insoluble fiber helps with constipation and not so much with diarrhea.
Types of insoluble fiber-
Cellulose– Cellulose is found in fruits and vegetables. The skin, cell walls and seeds of plants are made of cellulose, for this reason if you juice fruits or vegetables you are removing the cellulose, or the structural component of the plant. Cellulose helps to alleviate constipation because it keeps things moving in your digestive track. A diet high in cellulose has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Many processed foods that are fortified with fiber are fortified with cellulose, which can even come in the form of wood pulp.
Lignin is also found in cell walls of plants, it is what makes up the tough structure in things like stems of broccoli and cauliflower, root vegetables, flax seeds, and edible seeds such as tomatoes and berries. It is good for heart health and constipation.
How much fiber should I eat?
Overall fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet and it is great to consume both types of fiber on a daily basis. Luckily many foods like oatmeal, beans, cereals and whole grains have both types of fibers.
The Institute of Medicine recommends:
Men get 30-38 grams per day
Women get 21-25 grams per day
Most people do not consume the recommended amount of fiber on a daily basis. By eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains you will naturally increase your fiber intake.
If you do not think you are getting enough fiber currently, it is a good idea to slowly increase the amount so your gut can get used to the new bacteria and digestion. Also always make sure to drink plenty of water!
If you have special dietary requirements or if you have any GI diseases make sure to make a consultation. Some people may need more or less fiber depending on health conditions and diet. If you have specific questions about the amount of fiber in your diet or ways to increase fiber please make an appointment today.
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