Dietary Fiber : Why do we need it?

Dietary Fiber
Dietary Fiber

What is Dietary Fiber?

Dietary Fiber is also known as roughage. It is the indigestible part of plant foods that pushes through our digestive system, absorbing water along the way and easing bowel movements.

The word fiber comes from the Latin word fibra, meaning thread, string, filament, entrails. Dietary fiber refers to nutrients in the diet that are not digested by gastrointestinal enzymes.

There are two important types of fiber: water-soluble and water insoluble. Each has different properties and characteristics.

Soluble : Water-soluble fibers absorb water and digestive enzymes made by the liver to create a gel. They increase stool bulk and may decrease blood cholesterol levels. This gel works chemically to prevent and reduce the body’s absorption of substances that may be harmful. It is soluble fiber that helps control blood sugar and reduces cholesterol. Soluble fiber comes from fruit, some vegetables, brown rice, beans, barley peas, lentils, oats and bran.

Insoluble : Adds the bulk needed to clean out the colon and regulate bowel movements. This fiber, or roughage, acts like a sponge. As it absorbs water, it swells inside your intestine and produces a feeling of fullness. The insoluble fiber moves through the digestive system to remove waste, toxins and materials your body doesn’t need. Insoluble fiber can be found in fruits with edible peel or seeds, vegetables, whole grain whole-wheat bread, bulgur wheat, cereals, rolled oats, nuts, and brown rice.

Why is fiber important?

A high-fiber diet appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, constipation and colon cancer. Fiber is important for the health of the digestive system and for lowering cholesterol.

How much fiber do I need each day?

In general, adult men up to age 50 should aim to consume at least 38 grams of dietary fiber each day; for women up to age 50, it’s at least 25 grams of fiber daily. After age 50, fiber needs decrease slightly.

Unfortunately most people don’t meet these recommendations. In fact, on average, people consume only 14 grams of fiber per day.

How to increase intake of Fiber?

Grains and Cereals: Include at least one serving of whole grain in every meal. Keep a jar of oat bran or wheat germ handy. Sprinkle over salad, soup, breakfast cereals and yogurt. Use whole-wheat flour when possible in your cooking and baking. Choose whole grain bread. Look on the label for breads with the highest amount of fiber per slice. Choose cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Keep whole-wheat crackers on hand for an easy snack. Cook with brown rice instead of white rice.

Legumes and Beans: Add kidney beans, or other bean varieties to your salads. Each 1/2 cup serving is approximately 7 to 8 grams of fiber. Substitute legumes for meat two to three times per week. Experiment with dishes that use whole grains and legumes as part of the main meal or in salads.

Fruits and Vegetables : Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Fresh fruit is slightly higher in fiber than canned. Eat the peel whenever possible. Have fresh fruit for dessert. Add chopped dried fruits to your cookies, muffins, pancakes or breads before baking. Dried fruits have a higher amount of fiber than the fresh versions. Add sliced banana, peach or other fruit to your cereal. Grate carrots on salads.

What about fruit juice?

Fruit juice doesn’t contain as much fiber as whole fruits. Your best bet is to choose fruits that contain edible seeds, such as kiwi, blueberries, raspberries, and figs.

Why is soluble fiber so important?

Soluble fiber has been shown to reduce total blood cholesterol levels and may improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Consuming adequate amounts of soluble, fermentable fiber is very important for optimal health, because it optimizes the function of the friendly bacteria in the gut.

Although there is no dietary reference intake for insoluble or soluble fiber, many experts recommend a total dietary fiber intake of 25 to 38 grams per day with about one-fourth — 6 to 9 grams per day — coming from soluble fiber. There is no evidence that eating less fiber than that has any harmful effects. But fiber is still an essential part of a healthy diet.

Is there any Precaution I need to take?

High-fiber foods are good for your health. But adding too much fiber too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fiber in your diet gradually over a period of a few weeks. This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change.

As you increase your fiber intake, increase your fluids as well. Fiber pulls water into the intestines. Without adequate hydration, fiber can actually aggravate rather than alleviate constipation. So try to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

Disclaimer : This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.

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