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Friday, August 7, 2020

Dietary Fiber: Types, Functions, Benefits and Intake

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Dietary fiber, also known as bulk or roughages is a class of food on its own. It is gotten from whole plant foods and the body cannot digest or absorb it. It passes through your digestive tract and out of your body intact.

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However, this doesn’t mean that it is not important in the body. Fiber has many important roles it plays in your body and that is what this article is all about.

After reading this, you will know why dietary fiber is good for your health.

Fiber and its Importance in the Body

Like you’ve seen above, unlike other classes of foods, fiber is not digested in the body. This is one of the reasons why it is the best remedy for treating constipation.

Aside from constipation, it has other health benefits. It helps you maintain a healthy weight, it prevents cancer, especially colon cancer, and it prevents heart disease and reduces your risks of diabetes.

Fiber plays many important roles in fighting and preventing diseases. It also aids in weight control.

Types of Dietary Fiber

Fibers are divided into 2 main groups: Soluble and insoluble fibers.

Soluble fibers

This type of fiber is dissolvable in water. They form a gel-like material when they dissolve in water. Soluble fiber is used in controlling the levels of glucose and cholesterol.

It also slows the passage of food from the stomach to the small intestine. Rich sources of soluble fibers are peas, apples (soft part), oats, psyllium, barley, carrots, citrus fruits, and dried beans.

Insoluble fibers

This type of fiber does not dissolve in water and their main function in the body is to prevent constipation. This type of fiber is found in tomatoes, carrots, whole-grain foods, apples (peels), nuts, cereals, and celery.

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Insoluble fibers are also called roughage. It holds on to water and this helps the movement of bowels.

Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber

Improves your digestive system

This is the most well-known health benefits of fiber. It adds bulk to your stools thereby improving your bowel movement. It makes it easier for stools to pass through your intestines thereby preventing constipation.

Dietary fiber also reduces your risks of intestinal inflammation (diverticulitis). It also prevents the formation of hemorrhoids, gallstones, and kidney stones.

Fiber reduces the symptoms of gastric acid and GERD, a reflux condition. This will offer relief to people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.

Reduces the risk of gall and kidney stones

Excess cholesterol in the body can lead to the formation of gallstones. Fiber expels excess cholesterol thereby reducing the risks of gallstones.

Insoluble fibers bind to calcium in the digestive tract and prevent them from entering the bloodstream. This will prevent calcium from being excreted through the urine thereby reducing the deposition of calcium in the kidneys.

Over time, this will lead to the formation of kidney stones.

Increases the absorption of minerals

Fiber helps prevent nutritional deficiencies by increasing the absorption of minerals from the foods you eat, most especially calcium. This helps promote healthy teeth and bones.

Soluble fibers which are fermentable help the absorption of minerals in many ways. One of the ways is by lowering intestinal pH, this will make minerals more soluble thereby improving their absorption.

Another way soluble fibers boost the absorption of nutrients is to increase the absorption capacity of your cells within the intestinal tracts. It does this by increasing the active transporter pathways or by increasing the absorptive area.

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Reduces inflammation

Inflammation is present in every chronic disease. It is even believed to be responsible for many diseases. Reducing inflammation will reduce your risks of chronic diseases.

Fiber controls inflammation by preventing leaky gut, improving your gut flora, reducing your levels of cholesterol, and also preventing obesity.

Improves heart health

Both types of fibers are good for your heart but the soluble fibers are the most important for your heart health. They reduce the risks of heart attack by 40% and even strokes.

Eating lots of fibers will reduce your risks of bad cholesterol while it increases that of good cholesterol. It keeps your blood pressure at a normal level and reduces inflammation at the same time.

It also helps you maintain a healthy weight by getting rid of excess fat, including belly fat.

Extends lifespan

Fiber extends lifespan and reduces mortality rate. Studies have found that healthy consumption of fiber reduces the risks of mortality by 19%.

Fortifies your immune system

Soluble fibers are what your gut microbiota feeds on. Your gut microbiome makes up a huge part of your immune system and they also have a huge impact on your mental and cognitive functions.

A reduction in the population of these healthy microbes puts you at risk of infection. Dietary fiber helps increase their population and this will keep your immune system fortified.

They fight invading germs and help in detoxifying your body. The microbiota of your gut also improves digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Prevents and treats asthma

Asthma is caused by inflammation of the airways and fiber prevents inflammation. Asthma is triggered when unwanted particles from the gut enter the bloodstream. This leads to an autoimmune response.

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Eating a fiber-rich diet always will reduce your chances of having an autoimmune response.

Controls the levels of blood sugar

A fiber-rich diet, especially soluble fiber helps controls the levels of glucose in your bloodstream. Soluble fiber slows down the rate at which glucose is absorbed into the body.

Prevents food allergies

Fiber prevents food allergies by building the relationship between the healthy bacteria in your gut and the foods you eat. People who have food allergies don’t have the right amount of gut bacteria.

Foods that cause allergies like shellfish and peanut do not have the right bacteria in the gut to prevent these foods from entering the bloodstream.

Fiber helps your gut microbiome produce and diversify. One of the microbes produced by fiber is clostridia and this bacterium makes sure your gut is secured.

Reduces your risks of heart disease

Bad cholesterol forms plaques in your arteries, this can harden or block your blood vessels thereby restricting the flow of blood to your heart. This can cause a heart attack or heart disease.

Dietary fiber reduces the levels of bad cholesterol while increasing that of good cholesterol. This will keep your blood vessels clean and free for blood to move smoothly.

Improves skin health

Dietary fiber protects your skin and improves its health. It eliminates toxins from the body and skin surface. Accumulation of toxins in the body affects your skin, leads to early aging, and dulls your complexion.

Fiber binds to yeast and bacteria and gets rid of them through feces. This will prevent these microbes from excreting through your skin thereby leading to rashes and acne.

It also keeps your skin fresh and young. It also strengthens your immune system to kill bacteria and yeast that cause acne.

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Reduces your risks of stroke

Fiber helps reduce your risk of stroke and paralysis by preventing the obstruction of blood flow to the brain. It prevents the buildup of plaques in the walls of the arteries oxygenated which carries blood to the brain.

Regulates weight

A diet rich in fiber controls foods intake and hunger. Fiber helps you feel full for a long time, this will help regulate your food intake. This, in turn, will prevent you from putting on unnecessary weight.

This will help you achieve a slimmer appearance if you use a fiber-rich diet effectively. Roughages will help you eat less and this will help keep your calories under control.

You can go for fiber supplements like Psyllium husks and glucomannan. You also have to increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Another way fiber controls weight gain is to control the levels of sugar in your bloodstream. This has already been explained above. Spike in insulin makes you crave foods and even unhealthy ones at that.

Fiber also supplies enough energy for you to burn up during your work out and daily activities.

Prevents piles

Hard stools that require efforts coming out or that makes you strain increases your risks of pile by putting pressure on the veins in your lower rectum.

This can lead to piles/hemorrhoids. Both soluble and insoluble fiber can ease bowel movement thereby reducing your risks of pile. It also prevents constipation and this will save you from straining.

Prevents cancer

Having a fiber-rich diet is one of the most effective ways to prevent cancer. This is why you need to increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Fiber serves as food to the healthy microbes inhabiting your gut. Your gut microbiome makes up 70 to 80% of your immune system. This helps your gut microbiome to multiply and defend your body against cancers and invaders well.

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Insoluble fibers also help detoxify your body, thereby correcting one of the main causes of cancer, accumulation of toxins in the body. Soluble fibers produce butyrate, a chemical that protects your body from the dangers of carcinogens.

They also help to expel toxins and carcinogens from the body before they can even cause any harm. One of the common causes of breast cancer is hormonal imbalance.

Dietary fiber expels excess estrogen from the body.

Prevents diverticulitis

This condition happens when the inner walls of the intestines are weak and pouches are created within. These pouches are known as diverticulosis and constant straining during bowel movements increases the risk of having this.

Fiber relieves constipation and makes easy the passage of bowels thereby reducing the risks of this condition.

Rich sources of Dietary fiber

Dietary fiber is mostly found in fruits, whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. Some of the richest sources of fiber in nature are:

  • Green vegetables: Examples are spinach and all green leafy vegetables, broccoli, artichoke, and peas.
  • Whole grains: Examples are oatmeal, bran flakes, barley, and whole wheat.
  • Fruits: Examples are avocados, prunes, pears, apples, raspberries, blackberries, etc.
  • Beans: Examples are kidney beans, lima beans, black beans, and lentils
  • Nuts: Examples are Brazil nuts, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, and almonds.
  • Supplements and fortified foods: It is advisable you go for whole foods than fiber supplements because most of these supplements do not have a variety of fibers and other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

Fortified foods are not also healthy, the preservatives and other chemicals added to them is not good for your body. Some people complain of flatulence after eating fiber-fortified foods.

But in some medical conditions where whole foods can’t provide the amount of fiber needed, supplements can be used. Examples of such conditions are IBS, diarrhea, and constipation, and even cancer.

But you have to check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

How to Increase Your Intake of Fiber

Dietary Fiber

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A healthy human adult needs between 21 to 38 grams of fiber daily. This depends on the age, size, and sex of the individual. Increasing your intake of fiber seems difficult in this fast-food world but it is possible.

Starting easy and remaining steady on the journey is the key. Changes should be done gradually, so you don’t experience some side effects. Increase your intake of fiber weekly and also your water intake.

Fiber absorbs water from the surrounding, so you need to increase your intake of water as you increase that of fiber. Remember you have to do this with care because over consuming fiber can cause stomach cramps, gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc.

However, they would dissipate over time. Another easy way to increase your intake of fiber is to eliminate all kinds of processed plant foods from your diet. Remove white rice, white bread, pasta, etc. from your food list.

Go for whole plant foods, in this way, you are taking in more fiber. You can also start your day by having a fiber-rich breakfast. Take oats, bran flakes, whole bran, and fiber-fortified cereals.

Eat more fruits and veggies daily. Use whole grain flour in your baking or you add Psyllium husks to bulk up your bread and pastries.

References;

  1. Health benefits of dietary fiber; NCBI
  2. Health benefits of dietary fiber; Oxford Academic
  3. Types of fiber and their health benefits; WebMD
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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Ebiojo David
I am a Biochemist and Naturopath, I love writing and educating people on health and wellness matters.

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