We all know how inevitably important a balanced healthy diet is for our overall health. A balanced diet typically involves many nutrients taken in balanced proportions – which also includes the consumption of fiber. Dietary fiber is a plant-based nutrient that passes through our digestive system without being broken down.
Dietary fiber is made up of soluble and insoluble fibers – both of which are significant for consuming a healthy diet supporting and promoting various important systems in our body. Plants contain both the fibers. The common food sources of fiber include legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Highlights about Soluble and Insoluble Fibers
- Both types of dietary fibers can be obtained from various fiber-rich food sources.
- Soluble and insoluble fiber both have their health benefits.
- Dietary fiber is commonly used as an aid to achieving a healthy daily diet.
- Though fiber is commonly present in numerous food items, our current lifestyle contains more carbs and sweeteners that our fiber intake is worrisome.
Basic Difference between Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
When we consume dietary fiber, its soluble part is easily dissolved in water and the fluids in our stomach. This process transforms the soluble fiber into a gel-like substance. Moving further into the large intestine, this gel is broken down by the good gut bacteria in the large intestine. This process results in the release of some calories and gases.
In comparison, insoluble fiber moves through our stomach without being dissolved in water or the gastrointestinal fluids. Remaining largely unchanged, the insoluble fiber does not convert into calories. It helps in adding bulk to the stool.
Benefits of Soluble Fiber
Among the numerous benefits of consuming a balanced diet, including fiber, we can attain the following benefits from soluble fiber:
- Weight Management
Soluble fiber aids in weight management significantly. It lowers the activity of fat absorption in our body by being converted into a gel. This thick gel helps block the fats from being digested and absorbed in our bodies.
- Decreases Cholesterol Levels
This type of fiber also helps in decreasing the frequency of cholesterol being broken down in our bodies. It is essential in managing cholesterol levels in the body; hence, benefiting our heart.
- Regulation of Blood Sugar Levels
One of the best benefits of soluble fiber, besides weight management and decreasing cholesterol, is the regulation of blood sugar levels. The soluble fiber, after converting into a gel-like substance, slows the digestion of numerous other nutrients in the food, including carbohydrates. This helps in sudden fluctuation in the blood sugar levels – which is extremely beneficial for people with type-2 diabetes.
- May Prevent Cardiovascular Disease
All the above health benefits of soluble fiber contribute significantly toward making our cardiovascular system stronger. The controlled levels of cholesterol and glucose levels help reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular issues; thus, preventing heart disease.
- Good for the Good Gut Bacteria
The good gut bacteria reside in our colon. These microorganisms play a critical role in maintaining the health of our stomach and overall digestive system. Soluble fiber feeds these bacteria, and they thrive when we consume a diet rich in dietary fiber.
Benefits of Insoluble Fiber
- Helps Relieve Constipation
If you have heard that fiber is good for providing relief in constipation, then your sources are correct. Insoluble fiber is digested in the stomach by the gastrointestinal fluids. It remains in the gastrointestinal tract for a long time and absorbs liquid. It also sticks to the byproducts of the food we consume, which helps add bulk to our stool. As it carries liquid with it to the rectum, it plays a critical role in softening the stool; hence, helping in relieving constipation.
- Helps Prevent Diverticulitis
As insoluble fiber helps ease our digestive process and soften the stool, it is highly beneficial for preventing diverticulitis disease. With the help of insoluble fiber, the chances of development of small fold in the colon decrease. Also, it helps prevent us from colorectal cancer.
Consumption of Fiber
Owing to the utmost importance of both the types of dietary fiber in a healthy diet, almost all the packaged foods have amounts of soluble and insoluble fibers written on them. For a food item to be qualified as “rich in fiber,” it is necessary to contain about 20% of the recommended daily value of fiber. Poor food sources of fiber are the ones that contain about 5% of dietary fiber in them.
Food Sources of Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
Following is the list of some food items and the amount of fiber they contain in a half-cup serving:
- 5 grams of fiber in navy beans
- About 8.8 grams of fiber in bran
- 2 grams of fiber in kidney beans
- 1 grams of fiber in split beans
- Cooked lentils contain 7.8 grams of fiber
- White chickpeas provide 6.2 grams of fiber
- Baked potato with the peel contains 3.8 grams of fiber
- One raw banana contains 3.1 grams of fiber
- Raw almonds provide 3.3 grams of fiber
- Cooked spinach provides 3.5 grams of fiber
For a healthy diet, a balanced combination of soluble as well as insoluble fiber, should be consumed. Though fiber can be obtained by supplements, they are not as effective as the naturally-occurring fiber in different foods.
Important Points to Remember
- As compared to the canned and processed foods, whole foods are always the best way of obtaining fiber.
- Added fiber in various foods might be listed as chicory root or inulin among the ingredients.
- Consider consuming fruits with their peels as they contain the most nutrients and fiber.
- The amount of fiber in some food sources might change when they are cooked.
- Unrefined grains and whole-grain cereal products should necessarily be included in our daily diet.
- An ingenious way of adding fiber-rich foods in our daily diet is to make dips and sauces out of chickpeas, peas, lentils, etc.
- Brown rice is preferred over the white variety as it contains more fiber.
- It is good to start the day with some fiber-rich breakfast options such as ready-to-eat bran.
The importance of fiber in maintaining good health is undeniable. It helps relieve several problems of the digestive tract while also preventing numerous digestive issues such as constipation. Fiber-rich foods include whole grains, peas, lentils, fruits, vegetables, etc.
Soluble and insoluble fiber both have their own sets of benefits. Overall, dietary fiber is an important food nutrient that helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.