What is Fiber? Health Benefits, Food Sources and Daily Requirements
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our body cannot digest or absorb.
It is referred to as bulk or roughage because our bodies cannot digest fiber it passes through our stomach, small intestines, colon and out of our bodies relatively intact. Fiber (also termed as dietary fiber) can help you with regular bowel movements. It also assists with weight loss.
Studies have shown that optimal fiber intake can help lower heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It may help with certain types of cancer like colorectal cancer.
Types Of Fiber
Soluble fiber can dissolve in water and forms a gel-like substance. Some examples of soluble fiber are gum, pectin and mucilage. Food sources rich in soluble fiber are peas, oats, apples, beans, carrots and barley. The main benefits of soluble fiber are that it helps to reduce blood glucose levels and blood cholesterol levels.
Another interesting fact about soluble fiber is that it is food to the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. Did you know that bacteria in your large intestine outnumber human cells by 10:1? I discuss more about good bacteria in my probiotic article (coming soon), for now know this:
Most of the food that we eat is digested and absorbed from the small intestine and hardly reaches your large intestine. This leaves very little for the bacteria in your gut to feed on. However soluble fiber passes through the small intestine relatively intact and this makes it a delicious snack for the good bacteria to feast on!
This is the reason soluble fiber is also termed as prebiotic.
Insoluble fiber as the name suggests cannot dissolve in water. Examples include cellulose, lignin, hemicellulose. Food sources rich in insoluble fiber are whole bran, whole-wheat like roti, potatoes and beans.
The main benefits of insoluble fiber is that it helps you keep regular by speeding up the passage of foods from the intestines. Let’s discuss the most important benefits of fiber (soluble and insoluble) in some detail.
Health Benefits of Including Fiber In Your Diet
# Benefit No 1: Helps you stay regular
As discussed, insoluble fiber helps add bulk to the stool which makes it easier to pass thus decreasing the chance of constipation.
Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal issues that people experience around the world!
#Benefit No 2: Helps you lose weight
The most important thing when it comes to weight loss is to deal with hunger and cravings. This is because in order to lose weight, its important to follow a calorie deficit diet.
When on a caloric deficit diet, almost everyone has to deal with cravings and hunger. A high fiber diet is more filling as it helps stabilize your blood sugar levels which significantly reduces your cravings and hunger.
Another important aspect of a high fiber diet is that almost every high fiber foods are nutrient-dense meaning they are high in vitamin minerals which further helps reduce cravings. This is because cravings are simply a cry from your body to ingest more micronutrients that it needs to deal with billions of chemical reactions happening in your body at any given point in time.
#Benefit No 3: Lower heart disease risk
High fiber intake is strongly linked to a reduction in heart disease. An umbrella review was conducted by Marc P. McRae which was published in 2017. 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5731843/
This umbrella review included all meta-analysis or systematic reviews. A total of 31 meta-analyses were included in this umbrella review and ALL of these high-quality studies reported that eating a high fiber diet results in a significant reduction in the relative risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease.
The clear reason was that fiber acts on low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) and reduces it thus lowering the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.
#Benefit No 4: Lowers risk of certain types of cancer
A study led by Maryam F. Farvid et al. led a large scale study of women participants concluded that females who ate a high fiber diet especially during their adolescent years and early adulthood reduced their breast cancer risk. 2https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/01/28/peds.2015-1226
However, there is not enough evidence which supports that high fiber intake can lower the risk of colon cancer. 3https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9895396/
#Benefit No 5: Lowers risk of diabetes
Eating high-fiber foods such as oats, whole grains, and whole bran slows down the digestion process which helps stabilize the sudden rise of blood glucose levels. This helps lower the risk of type-2 diabetes.
How Much Fiber Do You Really Need?
Optimal Fiber intake is dependent on one’s age and gender. Check out the table below to find out your fiber intake:
Foods High in Fiber
It’s important to eat a variety of high fiber foods to ensure that you get both types of fiber i.e. soluble and insoluble.
You don’t need to be particular about getting a fixed amount of a specific type of fiber as almost all fiber foods contain varying amounts of fiber types in them. Just focus on including the following foods almost on a daily basis. This will ensure that you reach the optimal fiber intake according to your age and gender.
Fiber in Fruits
Fiber intake in most fruits is 2-3g for every 100 grams.
Avocado is one fruit which is super high in fiber providing 7g of fiber per 100g. Berries like blackberries and raspberries contain between 5-7g per 100g. Pomegranate has 4g/100g.
Fiber in Vegetables
Fiber in most vegetables is also between 2-3g/100g. However, lima beans, peas, squash, artichoke are loaded with fiber at 6g/100g!
Your regular veggies like broccoli, spinach, carrots, brussels sprouts, okra (bhindi), sweet potatoes, etc contain between 2-3g/100g as mentioned above.
Fiber in Oats, Whole Grains, etc.
Oats, barely, ragi, brown rice, roti are all high fiber foods.
Just make sure that you source the ingredients from a health store as most commercially available grains and oats are highly processed leaving very little fiber in them!
7 Tips On How Fulfil Your Daily Fiber Requirement
-Replace white bread, rice with whole wheat bread and brown rice respectively.
-Completely give up sugar-laden cereals and focus on only eating oats or quinoa.
-If you eat meat almost daily, starting including lentils and beans in your diet a few times a week. This is because meats have zero fiber in them and lentils and beans have a lot in them!
-Include a variety of vegetables in both raw and cooked form.
-Completely avoid fruit juices, even the freshly squeezed ones. This is when you juice a fruit, you are leaving all the fiber behind.
-Strive to get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables at any cost!
-Supplement your diet with psyllium husk if you are not able to fulfil your daily quote of fiber intake.
Fiber is super-important for us. Research clearly shows that a high fiber diet can help you stay regular by preventing constipation. It makes losing weight easy. It also helps lower the risk of breast cancer, type-2 diabetes and significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Unfortunately, most people’s diets are deficient in fiber intake and their average is no more than 15g a day, which is very less than the recommended intake.
My suggestion is to gradually increase your fiber intake to give your gastrointestinal system time to adapt. At the same time, it’s also essential to increase your water intake when trying to increase fiber in your diet.
I strongly recommend that you include a variety of foods as listed above and follow the tips and suggestions provided to ensure that you are fulfilling your daily quote of fiber intake.
What do you think about this article? Have any questions? Let me know in the comments below!
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About Akash Sehrawat
Akash is a creator of 25+ programs and certificate courses in which more than 200,000 students have enrolled both on Udemy and Fabulous Body's native platform. Akash is also an author of three books that can be found on Amazon. His answers on Quora have gathered more than 12 million views in less than a year.