fiber

Today we’re talking about fiber! Everybody needs it and it provides loads of benefits to your health but, sadly, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is bran flakes that taste like cardboard or a powder you stir into water and try to choke down. Eating fiber does not have to be a terrible and tasteless experience! Let’s learn a little bit more about fiber, what it does for you, and where to find it.

veggies 2[used with permission from Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]

What exactly is fiber? It is a non-digestible part of plant foods, meaning that your body cannot break it down during digestion and it travels through the entire digestive system intact. This inability to be digested is actually what makes it so beneficial to your health!

Fiber helps lower cholesterol, improves digestive function and the health of your GI tract, helps regulate blood sugar, and keeps you feeling full longer.

There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble means that something dissolves in water and, as you might guess, insoluble means that it doesn’t. This is important when considering the benefits of each type of fiber.

Soluble fiber can absorb some water as it travels through the digestive system and forms a gel. This helps to slow down digestion, which helps keep you feeling full and decreases the rise in blood sugar after your meal. That’s why, although fruit has sugar in it, it has less of an effect on your blood sugar than eating a candy bar. The gel formed by soluble fiber also helps it trap cholesterol and eliminate it from the body, resulting in lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.

Soluble fiber also acts as a prebiotic in the GI tract. You’ve likely heard of probiotics, or beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombuch, pickled vegetables, etc. that promote a healthy GI tract. Prebiotics are essentially “food” for probiotics. They help keep your healthy bacteria…healthy!

  • Soluble fiber includes: psyllium, oats/oat bran, apples, pears, legumes (beans), and barley

cereals[used with permission from Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]

Insoluble fiber absorbs much more than it’s weight in water, providing bulk as it moves through the digestive system. This bulk also provides a feeling of fullness and helps speed the movement of foods along the digestive tract, promoting regularity.

  • Insoluble fiber includes: wheat bran/bran cereal, corn bran, whole wheat/grain foods, fruits, and vegetables

As I’ve mentioned, fiber has some great benefits for your digestive system. If you struggle with diarrhea, you may want to look at increasing your soluble fiber intake to help slow things down and feed your good gut bacteria, which will help you maintain a healthy GI tract. However, if constipation is your problem, insoluble fiber will be more beneficial in helping to provide bulk and get things moving through your system. Be aware that most fiber supplements are made up of mostly soluble fiber, so this won’t be incredibly beneficial if constipation is your issue.

water[source]

You may have noticed that I have mentioned water quite a bit in relation to how fiber works in the body. It is so important to drink adequate amounts of fluids when you consume an adequate amount of fiber in order to keep things moving. If you aren’t used to eating much fiber, you’ll want to increase the amount you eat gradually and, again, drink plenty of fluids to prevent any GI distress or discomfort.

So, how much fiber do you need? The recommended amount per day is 25-38 grams, with women requiring amounts at the lower end and men requiring amounts at the higher end. As always, whole (minimally processed) foods are the best option and keep in mind that whole fruits and veggies have more fiber than those that have been peeled or juiced. Here are some foods that will help you reach your fiber goals:

ScreenHunter_73 Sep. 08 16.53

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