Fiber is a funny old food group. For starters, it contains no calories and is completely indigestible by humans; we simply lack the necessary enzymes and multiple stomachs to effectively break it down. It’s also something that many people fail to eat enough of.
In this article, I want to lift the lid on fiber and explain why it’s important and how to eat enough of this essential foodstuff.
What is fiber
Fiber is part of the carbohydrate group but, as mentioned already, contains no usable calories for humans. It’s a non-starch polysaccharide which simply means it’s a complex carb but isn’t a starch.
Fiber comes in two varieties – soluble and insoluble – which refers to their reaction with water. Both are important but for different reasons. Fiber is found in plants such as fruit, vegetables and grains.
The two types of fiber
The two types of fiber come from two different sources. Insoluble fiber is mainly found in the outer skin of vegetables and fruits and the husks of grains. It does not dissolve in water and passes through your digestive system like a sweeping brush removing old, undigested food, dead blood cells, dead bacteria, and anything else that needs cleaning up.
In contrast, soluble fiber is found in the fleshy parts of fruit, vegetables and grains. It does dissolve in water and acts more like a sponge in your intestines. As it passes through your digestive tract, it soaks up things like excess bile acid, some cholesterol, and any other liquids that are excess to requirements.
Both types of fiber are important for your health and you need both in similar quantities.
Fiber and your health
Fiber is very important for your health – especially that of your digestive system. Food is almost constantly passing through your digestive tract and if that movement is slow, there is a risk that waste can build up which will cause bloating and other digestive problems. Fiber, being indigestible, bulks up the contents of your intestines which keeps everything moving along smoothly and efficiently.
Also, fiber bulks of your feces which means less straining on the toilet. Straining on the toilet can lead to several unpleasant medical conditions including piles (hemorrhoids) and diverticulitis which is where bulges develop in the walls of the large intestine which can become inflamed and infected with old bacteria.
Fiber has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels which may help improve heart health.
Fiber and weight loss
So how does fiber help with weight loss? Good question! Fiber is very beneficial in several ways:
- Food that are high in fiber are usually low in calories
- Fiber is very filling and prevents over eating
- Fibrous foods take a lot of chewing and anything that extends meal times will help prevent overeating
- Fiber helps keep your blood glucose levels stable which will prevent hunger and cravings
Simply eating fewer low fiber foods and more high fiber foods can be a good way to kick start weight loss.
How much fiber do you need?
The average adult only eats 15 grams of fiber per day which is way too little to be considered healthy. Women need 25 grams of fiber per day, and men need 38 grams per day, according to the Institute of Medicine. This might sound like a lot but really, it isn’t and remember that fiber is calorie-free.
How to get enough fiber
While you could take a fiber supplement such as psyllium husks, most people do not need to. In fact, you should be able to get all the fiber you need from your diet. Here are some tips for getting enough dietary fiber…:
- Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day
- Wherever possible, leave the skins on your fruit and veg
- Juice your own fruit and make sure you consume the pulp too
- Put whole fruits and vegetables in your smoothies – including the skin
- Snack on nuts and seeds
- Eat wholegrains like brown rice, wholemeal pasta and high fiber cereals such as bran
Despite containing no vitamins, minerals, or even calories, fiber is an essential food group. Make sure you get enough by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables as well as moderate amounts of high-fiber grains. Too little dietary fiber can adversely affect your rate of weight loss and also your health so make sure you are getting enough of this important substance each and every day.