Ever since carbohydrates became public enemy #1, fiber has found itself constantly discussed by nutritional scientists and dieters alike. While it is indeed technically a carbohydrate, it is about as similar to sugar as a Porsche is to a Kia.
Dietary fiber is not a carb to avoid, nor is it just for older individuals trying to “stay regular”. Rather, it is an important component of any healthy diet. Fiber has a number of beneficial effects, and chances are fairly good that you aren’t getting nearly enough of it.
What is Dietary Fiber?
Dietary fiber is essentially the indigestible portion of plant foods. “Plants” here is defined as anything from fruits and vegetables to grains and oats. Fiber has two main components: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber absorbs water as it moves through the digestive tract, helping the body’s waste management systems.
Generally, a food that contains fiber will have both types but in varying ratios.
Dietary Fiber Sources
The best sources of soluble fiber are foods such as legumes (beans, peas, soybeans, peanuts), oats, certain fruits and vegetables (apples, pears, broccoli), and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
Excellent sources of insoluble fiber include wheat, corn bran, whole grains, seeds and nuts, bananas and avocados.
Additionally, fiber supplements are widely available. Inulins and Vegetable Gum supplements can both provide a large dose of both soluble and insoluble fiber in a relatively easy to ingest manner.
Dietary Fiber Benefits
The benefits of dietary fiber are tremendous, though overloading on them can cause bloating or constipation.
Soluble fiber attaches itself to bile acids located in the small intestine, thus making them less likely to enter the body. This process, in turn, lowers cholesterol in the blood. Soluble fiber also manages the absorption of sugar (one of those evil simple carbohydrates we discussed earlier) and stabilizes blood lipid levels.
This acts to stop your body from storing fat and stabilizing hunger pangs for a considerable amount of time. In layman’s terms, you will feel full and satisfied for much longer.
Insoluble fiber is associated with a significantly reduced risk of Diabetes disease, however why this is true is not yet fully understood.
A study of 388,000 adults aged fifty to seventy-one over a period of nine years found that those consuming high levels of fiber were 22% less likely to die during the trial. It seemed that the consumption of fiber reduced their risk for heart disease, infectious and respiratory illnesses, and even cancer (primarily colo-rectal).
By eating approximately 20-35g of dietary fiber a day, you will receive a number of important benefits. This includes: appetite reduction, stabilized blood sugar levels, protection against heart disease, protection against both metabolic syndrome and Diabetes, regular and normal defecation, and a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.
Additionally, fiber helps manage the symptoms of a number of acute and chronic diseases ranging from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to Crohn’s Disease.
So even if you are avoiding carbs at all costs, be sure to maintain a healthy dietary fiber intake at all times. You’ll be glad you did.