Starting from the basics – what is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber is a form of a complex carbohydrate that is not digested by the human body.
This carbohydrate is found in the cell walls of most plant cells. Our body is able to digest other forms of carbohydrates by breaking them down into glucose molecules. These are the prime source of energy.
However, dietary fibers remain undigested and pass relatively intact through the intestines, colon, and rectum.
Now, how come something that is not broken down by your digestive system or absorbed by your body be of any use?
Well, for starters fibers add bulk to your stool and help it pass through the excretory path effectively. Also, since these are not broken down into simpler molecules, they keep us fuller for a longer time thus decreasing the frequency of hunger pangs.
Let us take a deeper look into what other health benefits dietary fiber have to offer us
8 amazing health benefits of fibers you did not know
Brings down cholesterol level
Gelatinous type of fiber that is gummy and found in cereals, breads, kidney beans, and oats, has many benefits. It can bring down blood cholesterol levels and assist in normalizing insulin and blood glucose levels. These two factors can help in preventing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart diseases.
Prevents constipation and makes bowel movements regular
There is roughage type of fiber that you will find in bean and apple skins, strawberry seeds, and in wheat bran. These fibers enable the undigested food to move smoothly along the digestive tract. The benefit of bulky stool is that it is much easier to pass.
Such clear movement helps in preventing constipation and regulating bowel movements. Dietary fiber improves size and weight of stool as well as softens it.
Moreover, if you are having watery and loose stools then dietary fiber will assist in solidifying your stool. This happens since fibers absorb water and add bulk to your stool.
Beneficial for treatment of syndrome X
This mysterious sounding disease is nothing but a group of syndromes which represent inherent metabolic disorders that make an individual more susceptible to insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity.
Dietary fiber is known to lower blood sugar levels, thus, consuming a high fiber diet on a daily basis can protect you such chronic illnesses.
Prevention of diverticulitis
Long-term constipation and other related digestive disorders can result in the formation of diverticular or small bulges or pouches along the inner linings of the intestine.
An inflammation and/or infection along these diverticular can cause serious conditions such as diverticulitis. This can result in severe cramping and diarrhea.
High fiber foods ensure the smooth passing of bowels thus inhibiting the formation of diverticula in the first place.
Reduced colon cancer mortality risk
Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the USA.
There are a number of risk factors associated with this deadly disease. Obesity, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and a predominantly red-meat based diet are a few of the factors which are quite common in our day to day life.
Recent studies have suggested that a high fiber diet can be linked to reduced risk of mortality due to colon cancer. According to these studies, for every 5 grams of fiber these cancer patients add to their diets, they reduce their odds of death by 25%.
A Natural Detox
Fibers in your food facilitate removal of toxins from G.I. (gastrointestinal) tract.
Soluble fibers absorb harmful compounds such as unhealthy fats before they are absorbed by our body.
Insoluble fibers help in regulating bowel movement.
The additive effect of both these kinds of fibers is that toxins, instead of being absorbed by the body, are expelled effectively.
Just because your diet is rich in calcium doesn’t imply that your body is able to absorb all of it. Absorption of important nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium is facilitated in our body by soluble dietary fibers.
Certain soluble fibers called prebiotics are able to augment bio-availability of certain minerals such as calcium in our foods. This, in turn, can assist us in maintaining bone density and reduce the risk of disabling diseases such as osteoarthritis.
Oats, wheat, soybeans, leeks, and asparagus are few of the food items that are rich sources of these soluble fibers.
Improved Skin Health
Skin infections and breakouts are a common complain among a majority of the population. Most of these are caused by the fungal and bacterial spread.
Skin, which is the largest organ of the human body, is also counted as a part of the excretory system since it helps in expelling waste in the form of sweat.
Eating a high fiber diet (especially psyllium husk) will ensure that these toxic agents are removed via bowel movements rather than through sweat. Thus, dietary fiber ensures that your body is toxin free and skin clean and glowing.
How to easily add 25 grams of fiber in your daily diet
In order to reap the maximum benefits of dietary fiber, it is important to consume the daily recommended dosage of fiber as per your age and gender.
Men should be consuming 30-38 grams of fiber per day while for women it is 25 grams. For women above the age of 51 years, the basic fiber requirement is 21 grams per day.
Certain studies co-relate the amount of dietary fiber that should be consumed with your daily calorie intake. The healthy dosage in this context stands somewhere around 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1000 calories you consume on a daily basis.
However, our staple modern diet provides us with only 15-16 grams of dietary fiber. This is much less than what our body demands to function effectively.
Stripped off of nutrients, refined and processed foods largely dominate our daily meals. This, experts postulate, is one of the key reasons why the rates of chronic illnesses and metabolic disorders are increasing at a steady rate.
Below given are a few easy ways to incorporate the required amount of fiber in your diet.
Select whole grains
- Whole wheat bread – 2 slices = 4 grams
- 1/4 cup of whole-wheat flour = 3 grams
- Cooked brown rice – 1 cup = 4 grams
- Reduced fat triscuit crackers – 7 pieces = 3 grams
- White bread – 2 slices = 3 grams
Choose breakfast cereals
- Quaker Squares (baked in cinnamon) – 1 cup = 5 grams
- Cooked cream of wheat – 1 cup = 3 grams
- Raisin bran – 1 cup = 7.5 grams
- Multigrain cheerios – 1 cup = 3 grams
- Wheaties – 1 cup = 3 grams
- Cooked oatmeal – 3/4 cup = 3 grams
Include beans in your diet a few times every week
- Add 1/4 cup of kidney beans to your green salads = 3 grams of fiber
- A bean burrito = 8 grams of fiber
- Canned minestrone soup – 1 cup = 5 grams of fiber
- Fat-free or vegetarian refried beans – 1/2 cup = 5 grams of fiber
Start eating more fruits
- 1 banana = 2.8 grams
- 1 apple = 3.7 grams
- Strawberries – 1 cup = 3.8 grams
- 1 pear = 4 grams
Don’t forget the veggies
- Cooked carrot slices – 1 cup = 5 grams
- Raw carrots – 1 cup = 4 grams
- Cooked broccoli – 1 cup = 4.5 grams
- 1 sweet potato = 4 grams
- Raw spinach leaves – 2 cups = 3 grams
- Cooked cauliflower – 1 cup = 3 grams
Action Steps to Increase Your Daily Dietary Fiber Intake
You should take help of “Nutrition Facts Label” as a tool to check how much dietary fiber a food item has. Let us go through some of the points you need to go through to make the right selection.
- Select food items that have a higher percent daily value (%DV) of dietary fiber.
- When checking the list of ingredients look for whole grains (such as brown rice, rolled oats, millet, etc.).
- Switch over from refined version to whole grain version of foods you consume such as cereals, bread, and rice.
- Prepare breakfast consisting of whole grain cereals like oatmeal and bran that have a high percentage of dietary fibers.
- Add beans, peas, or lentils to your soups, salads, and side dishes.
- Take fruits as desserts, salads, and snacks.
All you need is just 30 grams of fiber per day to start losing weight
If you start eating about 30 grams of fiber every day then it can assist you in losing weight.
Studies also reveal that if a fiber is more viscous then it is better able to reduce food intake and lower your appetite.
Viscous fibers thicken when they come in contact with water and form a gel-like substance. This gel-like substance remains in our gut and slows down the process of emptying of the stomach. This, in turn, makes you feel full for longer and you eat less. Some of the rich sources of viscous fibers are:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussels sprouts
- Oat Bran
Are there any negative effects of eating too much fiber?
If you are a healthy person then high fiber foods will be right and help to keep the bowels healthy. But, if you are suffering from a medical condition like Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s disease then it can aggravate symptoms. Moreover, it can also result in bowel irritation.
Fiber fermentation results in the release of gas as one of its by-products. Due to this reason, foods containing fermentable fiber can result in stomach discomfort and flatulence. This happens more in people who do not have the habit of consuming a lot of fiber.
If you are taking more than 70 grams of fiber in a day then it can result in negative effects.
Fibers may well bind minerals like zinc, iron, magnesium, and calcium. This will constrain the absorption of these minerals by our digestive system.
Intestinal blockage rarely occurs but, is certainly a serious concern. This happens in case a person is eating a lot of fiber and is not consuming the required amount of fluid.
Signs that a person is consuming more fiber than required
You will know that you are consuming a lot of fiber when:
- Gastrointestinal distress occurs in the form of constipation, gas, diarrhea, bloating, and cramping.
- There is early satiety or decreased appetite.
- Inability in consuming the required amount of energy because of the high volume meals. This, in turn, results in a reduction in muscle gain or weight loss.
How to reduce the discomfort?
Few of the steps you can take to reduce the amount of discomfort you feel due to side effects are:
- Reduce your daily fiber consumption.
- Stop taking high fiber cereal bars as they upset the digestive system more than naturally occurring fibers.
- Eat cooked vegetables instead of eating them raw.
- Avoid foods that are known to increase bloating like candy, cough drops, and sugar-free gum.
- Start drinking more water.
- Eat food that contains things like chicory root extract and inulin.
- If you have irritable bowel syndrome, then temporarily shift to a low FODMAP diet. This type of diet will remove fibrous and fermentable foods from the diet and relieve the symptoms.
- Take part in light physical activities such as walking.
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