Fiber is critical to human digestion, but most of us fail to eat enough. In fact, most adults eat less than half the recommended daily intake of fiber.
Perhaps confusion plays a role in this. There are two types of fiber; soluble and insoluble. These fibers are found in different kinds of food, and serve different purposes in the body. However, they’re both equally important.
Soluble fiber, once digested, attracts water from the body. This turns the contents of your stomach into a form of a gel, which sits in the stomach. Think that sounds unappealing? Think again.
The paste formed by soluble fiber provides several health benefits, which we’ll discuss shortly.
Insoluble fiber, meanwhile, passes quickly through the digestive tract. It doesn’t pass Go, and it doesn’t collect $200. This is why insoluble fiber keeps our bowel movements regular. As it moves through the body, it thickens up and makes for a healthy, bulky stool.
What does fiber do to the body?
Fiber differs from the other major food groups in that it’s never actually digested. (1)
Instead, soluble fiber acts as a barricade that delays the digestion of different foods. This is particularly impactful if your diet is high in sugar.
The fiber prevents sugar from being absorbed into the bloodstream and prevents spikes in blood-sugar levels. This is why fiber is particularly important for anybody living with, or at risk of contracting, diabetes.
Also, soluble fiber sits in the stomach for a prolonged period. This means that we feel full and satisfied for longer.
Unlike simple carbs, which almost immediately flood our body with sugar and leave us craving more of the same, soluble fiber releases energy slowly and steadily. It also acts as a buffer, preventing undesirable ingredients from seeping into the body.
As discussed, insoluble fiber beats a hasty retreat through the body. In doing so, it flushes your intestines of any unwanted food remnants. If you frequently struggle to digest heavier foods (red meat is a common culprit of this), insoluble fiber will help a great deal.
What the benefits of a high fiber diet?
The most significant benefit of fiber is the boost it provides your digestive tract. If you eat fiber regularly, you’ll be considerably more regular in your bathroom schedule. Naturally, this means that constipation is not a concern. (2)
Also, you will be considerably less likely to contract a bowel-related illness. Hemorrhoids, for example, are nobody’s friend. Besides, consuming appropriate amounts of fiber reduces the risk of diverticulitis, aka inflammation of the large intestine. Even bowel cancer can be avoided by eating sufficient fiber.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to switch from white bread to whole grain, consider the impact that fiber has on your heart. More and more people are living with heightened cholesterol, as the demands of 21st Century life take their toll on our diets. This leads to fatty deposits on the heart, which in turn leads to enhance the risk of stroke or heart disease.
Like fiber, cholesterol is divided into two categories – colloquially known as ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ By consuming soluble fiber, levels of bad cholesterol are drastically reduced. Fiber also dampens the impact of inflammation and heartburn and even lowers blood pressure.
Finally, think about the impact that fiber will have on your waistline. If you consume soluble fiber, you’ll be less hungry. This, in turn, means that you’ll eat less – and won’t gain weight. Fiber is critical to maintaining a healthy weight.
What foods are high in fiber?
There are a great many foods that are high in fiber. This means that a high-fiber diet doesn’t need to be boring. You can introduce plenty of variety to your meals without sacrificing this crucial nutrient.
Examples of high-fiber foods include:
Go easy here, though, as the fruit is also high in sugar.
As a rule, the darker green the vegetable, the better for your health.
Whole wheat loaves of bread and cereals
Consider switching to rye or pumpernickel bread, and turn from white rice to brown.
Beans and pulses
Kidney beans and lentils are excellent sources of fiber, and they’re also high in protein.
Nuts and seeds
Almonds, seeds, and pistachio needs are a tremendous fibrous snack, especially compared to potato chips. They’re very fatty though, so consume in moderation.
These foods can be consumed alone as snacks, or combined with other ingredients to make complete meals. It doesn’t matter how you consume dietary fiber. What really matters is that you do so.
How much fiber should we consume each day?
Obviously, the answer to this question depends on your age and general health. Somebody living with a particular health condition may need a tailored diet to reflect this.
However, let’s work to the data of a typical adult. Government-sanctioned health guidelines suggest that a healthy adult male requires around 2,200 calories each day. Dietary fiber should account for approximately 38 grams of this intake. Healthy females should look to consume about 1,800 calories and 25 grams of fiber.
These statistics are based on adults aged between 19 and 50. If you’re younger or older than this, your fiber intake should be adjusted accordingly. If in doubt, seek advice from a healthcare professional.
When is the best time of day to eat fiber?
Fiber should be consumed in every meal, wherever possible and realistic. Overdoing it and eating your entire daily allowance in one meal can wreak havoc on your bowels.
However, breakfast is the optimum time to stock up. Fiber releases energy slowly and methodically. A high-fiber breakfast means you’ll be less likely to crave sugary snacks in the afternoon.
Far too many of us fail to consume enough fiber, and that harms our general health. Check the recommended daily intake guidelines and adjust your diet accordingly. You’ll be glad that you did so.