By Crystal A. Moore
After a few moments of my awkward eavesdropping, the two shoppers made their selection and left the aisle. I stood there surprised that there was no mention of what should have been the #1 deciding factor — fiber.
Why You Probably Need More FiberFiber, an often unappreciated class of carbohydrate, is composed of long chains of sugar units. But unlike the carbohydrates found in starchy and sugary foods, bonds connecting the sugar units of fiber cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes in the digestive tract.
Instead, fiber passes virtually intact through your stomach, small intestine, and colon and eventually exits your body. This is why fiber is often referred to as roughage, and a bout of constipation is the “not-so-gentle” reminder that you probably need more.
Fiber’s role in health goes far beyond simply helping to keep bowel movements regular by creating bulky stools …
Fiber also helps with:
- Healthy cholesterol
- Weight management
- Glucose management
- GI health
- Removal of toxins
Types of FiberThere are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Here are their key characteristics:1
- Able to dissolve in water
- Viscous: forms gels
- Fermentable: easily digested by bacteria in the colon
- Commonly found in legumes and fruits
- Does not dissolve in water
- Does not form gels
- Less readily fermentable
- Commonly found in grains and vegetables
5 Health Benefits of Soluble and Insoluble Fiber1. Healthy cholesterol
Cholesterol is produced in the liver and has many beneficial roles in the body, but too much is associated with increased risk for heart disease. Fiber helps to support healthy cholesterol and heart health in several ways.2
One way is through limiting the recycling of bile acids. Bile acids are composed of cholesterol and are used in the digestive tract to break down and absorb fat. The cholesterol in bile acids can be reabsorbed into the body along with fat we have eaten and is recycled back to the liver. Soluble-viscous fiber binds with the cholesterol in bile acids and increases its excretion. Less cholesterol reabsorbed and more excreted means healthier cholesterol levels!
2. Weight management
When fiber reaches the stomach, it swells. So when you consume a high-fiber meal, you feel full faster, eat fewer calories, and stay satisfied longer! Now, I know that there are times when we (yes, myself included) ignore this feeling of fullness, but at least fiber will help you get off to a good start.
3. Glucose management
As mentioned earlier, fiber attracts water and swells in the stomach. Along with making you feel full, this causes delayed gastric emptying, meaning it takes longer for your stomach to empty after eating. This delayed emptying slows your bloodstream’s absorption of the sugars in carbohydrates and prevents dangerous post-meal glucose spikes.
4. GI health
Billions of beneficial microorganisms live in symbiosis in our bodies.3 While some are bad, many are beneficial. Known as probiotics, microorganisms in our gut help to strengthen our immune system, support the health of intestinal walls, and compete with harmful organisms. What’s fascinating is that these microorganisms LOVE fiber. When you eat fiber, you are providing food for your beneficial bacteria to grow and create strong healthy colonies.
5. Removal of toxins
When fiber reaches the colon, it binds to toxins, carcinogens, and excess estrogen for rapid removal through the stool.2 These toxins and excess hormones could otherwise be reabsorbed into the body.
Your Plan of ActionTo reap the full benefits of fiber, you must consume a heaping 30–35g/day. It takes a while for the body to adjust to such a high amount, so here are a few tips for getting started.2
- Gradually increase your fiber intake over the course of a few weeks.
- Drink lots of fluids to soften the fiber and ease its transit through your digestive tract.
- Be sure to consume a healthy balance of soluble and insoluble fiber. This will allow you to achieve maximum benefit.
By the way, if you’re wondering about which rice the shoppers chose, they selected the brown rice!
Now that you know what you should be looking for … what types of choices will you make?
- Whitney E, Rolfe SR. (2005) Understanding Nutrition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth
- Immunobiology. 1992 Feb;184(2-3):157-79.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
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