These days, any conversation about diet contains a reference to fiber. An entire diet aid culture has grown up around products like Sensa and Hoodia. Nearly every cereal box on the shelves from Bear Naked Granola to Cap’n Crunch advertises whole-grain fiber-filled goodness. If you listen to the claims, you might think that fiber sounds almost suspicious, but are the claims too good to be true?
Types of Fiber
Fiber is the part of any plant or plant product that we cannot digest. As a result, it passes through the digestive system without breaking down and being absorbed like other parts of food.
There are three types of dietary fiber, fermentable, soluble and insoluble. Each is necessary and performs a similar function in a slightly different way.
Insoluble fiber acts like a bulldozer, powering through the system, pushing everything in its way. You might think of insoluble fiber as roughage. Examples of insoluble fiber include bran and fibrous vegetables like broccoli.
- Soluble fiber slows digestion down and expands as it collects water and fat as it moves through the digestive system. As a result, it increases satiety, making you fell full longer, and helps stabilize blood sugar for diabetics. Soluble fiber can be found in food sources like beans, oatmeal, berries, and some nuts and seeds. Supplement sources include pysllium-based laxatives like Metamucil, and supplements that contain glucomannan.
- Fermentable is new to the conversation and seems to be a rising star. Fiber that ferments in the colon is thought to lower the risk of colon cancer. Many soluble fibers are fermentable. As mom used to say, and apple a day keeps the doctor away. Turns out she was right for a number of reasons.
The Benefits of Fiber
Fiber is credited with lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol, which prevents strokes and circulatory problems, and lowers the risk of eye issues related to cholesterol. It aids digestion and make bowel movements regular and normal. Getting the right amount every day will make you feel healthier, more energetic, and less bloated. It is often touted as a weight loss product. Fiber is usually low calorie, low fat, and very filling. You eat less and feel more full.
Daily Fiber Intake
Generally, most people are advised to ingest between 25 and 35 grams of fiber per day, and 25% to 30% should be soluble fiber. Most people get about half of what they need. A note of caution: Add fiber to your diet slowly. Doubling your fiber may seem like a good idea, but it would be very uncomfortable for the first week or two. Adding a little extra over the course of a week or two will allow your body to adjust.
The Bottom Line
The jury isn’t out on this one. Fiber is great, and there’s no downside. If you’re on a low-carb diet, there are plenty of low-carb fiber-rich veggies (like broccoli and asparagus) or no-carb insoluble fibers in the supplements mentioned above. You simply can’t go wrong by getting the right amount of fiber.
Cindy Johnson is a freelance writer with a passion for health and fitness. Check out her blog for health tips from Dr. Oz. When she’s not writing, Cindy loves to hike in the North Carolina mountains near her home with her husband and son.