Nutrition is an important part of our well-being and development. It helps us know about nutrients in food, why we need them, and how the body uses them. Knowing the primary facts about nutrients can assist us in taking better care of our health and preventing diseases.
There are seven major classes of nutrients. Out of which, people have the most misconceptions about dietary fiber. Fiber is an essential part of our diet because it improves our health and has the least amount of negative impacts on the body.
This article will help you acquire a better knowledge of fiber. It includes all the benefits and risks, along with the difference between real and fake fiber. Let’s get started.
What is Dietary Fiber?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but what separates it from other carbs is that fiber cannot be broken down into digestible sugar molecules. In other words, we can say that dietary fiber is an indigestible plant-based nutrient.
The body is unable to breakdown fiber; hence it passes through the intestine relatively intact. This helps keep the digestive system clean and healthy. It also provides a variety of benefits and does so much more than other nutrients to keep us healthy. Fiberis also called roughage or bulk.
Fiber can be divided into two categories: soluble and insoluble fiber.
1. Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and becomes a gel-like substance inside the body. It helps control blood sugar levels and reduces cholesterol. These include pectin, gum, mucilage, oatmeal, barley, nuts, and fruits.
2. Insoluble Fiber
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and retains its shape inside the body. It helps prevent constipation and maintain regularity. These include hemicellulose, cellulose, lignin, whole grains, wheat, and vegetables.
Fiber content varies depending upon how natural and unprocessed the source is. More refined white foods such as bread and rice have most of their fiber content removed. There is no fiber in meat, dairy, or sugar. Many foods contain both soluble and insoluble fibers, but the amount may vary. A popular example of foods that contain both fibers are nuts and carrots.
Health Benefits of Fiber
Dietary fibers have countless health benefits. It improves the overall health of the body by boosting our immune system and makes us look and feel our best. Consuming a fiber-rich diet helps with various heart diseases like stroke, manage diabetes, lose weight, improves GUT health, and promotes healthy skin. These are a few of the many reasons why we should consider adding fiber to our daily diet.
Studies and surveys show that most people fall short in consuming the required amount of fiber each day. The health benefits of fiber include:
- Digestive Health
It increases stool bulk and regularity. Hard and watery stools are hard to pass and can be uncomfortable. Dietary fiber helps maintain colorectal health by bulking and softening the stool. It also prevents constipation and diarrhea. Moreover, dietary fiberis said to reduce gastric acid production and prevent gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Recent researches show that consuming more fiber can help decrease the risk of hemorrhoids and diverticulitis, along with providing some relief from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
- Food Allergies
New studies show that fibers help control symptoms of autoimmune responses caused by foods like peanuts and shellfish. Food allergies are produced when the right kind of bacteria that is needed to digest food is absent in the gut. Fibers are said to produce bacteria that keep the gut secure. Hence, particles of food do not enter the bloodstream, and no allergic response is produced.
An animal study also stated that mice munching on fibers avoided an asthmatic attack as compared to mice that were on a low-fiber diet.
- Boosts Heart Health
Dietary fiber is very effective in lowering cholesterol by reducing the production of Low-Density Lipids (LDL) or bad cholesterol. Eating a lot of soluble fiber may help prevent risk factors linked to coronary heart diseases and stroke. Regular intake of fiber helps control blood pressure and improves levels of high-density lipids (HDL) in the body.
- Improves Skin health
Eating certain fibers can help flush out toxins from the body, due to maintenance of regularity. This gives a healthy and fresh appearance of the skin.
- Cancer Prevention
Scientists and nutritionists have provided some evidence which confirms that eating a high-fiber diet can help prevent colorectal cancer. Fiber can also decrease the risk of stomach cancer. However, the evidence of these facts is not yet conclusive.
Soluble fiber intake is a great way to maintain blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetes. Many people consuming a fiber diet are said to have improved reports for a fasting blood glucose test. Other than that, consuming insoluble fiber helps prevent the risk of diabetes.
- Weight Loss
Fiber adds bulk to your diet, which makes you feel full faster and helps in maintaining a healthy weight. Since dietary fiberdoesn’t get digested by our body, the feeling of fullness does not make you hungry, enabling you to eat less. Many fiber-rich fruits and vegetables help with more energy gain and keep you going throughout the day.
Side Effects of Fiber
Although dietary fiberhas proven health benefits, consuming an excessive amount may cause constipation, gas, or bloating. These side effects are very uncommon, but overconsumption of fiber, especially in a vegan diet, can trigger discomfort. These include stomach cramps, dehydration, nausea, and unintentional weight loss. These side effects can be treated by maintaining your fiber consumption and increasing your fluid intake.
Sources of Fiber
Depending on your age, gender, and health requirements, nutritionists say that consuming at least 21 to 38 grams of fiber is necessary. This may help achieve optimal health.
Following are the sources from which you can get a healthy dose of fiber:
- Whole grains like bran flakes, brown rice, barley, and whole-wheat pasta.
- Nuts and seeds like flaxseed, walnuts, and peanuts.
- Vegetables like spinach, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and green beans.
- Fruits like pear, apple, berries, orange, and banana.
- Legumes like kidney beans, peas, and lentils.
In simple words, it is much better to consume fiber from natural sources. Supplements do not contain enough fiber as compared to natural sources. But if you can’t get your daily intake, then turning to supplements is an option for you. Supplements come in a variety of dosage forms that include powders, chewable tablets, etc. However, always consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.
Some drawbacks of taking supplements include:
- Supplements might interact with other drugs like aspirin and warfarin.
- They can induce gas and bloating.
- Supplements do not provide the same amount of benefits and nutrients when compared to a high-fiber diet.
Real vs. Fake Fiber
Fiber-fortified foods are very popular in the market these days. Consumers that don’t want to eat high-fiber foods, such as lentils and vegetables, gravitate towards fiber-rich products. This influences them to think that they will get their daily consumption of fiber from these food products.
Manufacturers usually put a small amount of isolated fibers in processed foods such as yogurt, juices, snacks, energy bars, etc. in order to call them high-fiber. The reality is that these foods don’t even come close to natural fiber-rich foods and don’t have the same benefits.
Isolated fiber or stealth fiber is sometimes extracted from foods or can be chemically synthesized, and it is FDA approved. These include inulin, pectin, methylcellulose, or polydextrose; some of these substances turn gel-like on contact with fluid, while others have flavor enhancing ability. If you find these products mentioned on white bread, which contains no natural fibers, chances are it will haveisolated fiber inside. The ingredient list of the product will term it as modified natural fiber. If resistant starch is mentioned on the label, it contains about 5% natural fibers.
Moreover, isolated fiberoffers little to no health benefits compared to natural fibers. It is safe to say that it is fake and gimmicky. Natural dietary fiberhas a wide range of health benefits and extra nutrients that don’t even come close to fake fiber. Even the amount of isolated fiber used is very little for it to have any effects.
Health benefits associated with isolated fiber are not recognized. But, some studies show that they act as probiotics and promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Inulin also prevents the risk of colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. In addition to that, it can help enhance the absorption of certain minerals. These foods also have a low caloric count because of less sugar, refined flour, and fat content.
Consumption of dietary fiber is necessary to maintain a healthy diet. Fake fiber foods do not help with fiber intake. Therefore, you should always be careful while consuming processed fiber-rich products. Try to go for whole food alternatives with high-fiber content. This will help you consume many other minerals and nutrients, along with fiber as well.