With much of the focus in many people’s diets going towards how many calories they’re consuming or whether they should use a low fat or low carb approach, one factor that often gets lost in the mix is that of fiber. Fiber is an incredibly important nutrient in your diet because it’ll not only influence your health status, but also impact your bodyweight management efforts. If you want to maintain a healthy weight and avoid fat gain in the future, you need to be getting sufficient fiber into your daily picture.
But what is fiber and how much do you really need? Let’s take you through the main facts that you need to know about this nutrient so that you’re fully prepared to add it into your diet correctly.
What Is Dietary Fiber
Often called ‘roughage’, dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is found in plant foods that is indigestible in nature. Meaning, your body will not break it down and use it for energy like it would of normal carbohydrates (be it starch or sugar). Foods that are as close to their natural state as possible tend to have the greatest level of fiber while foods that have been refined tend to lack this nutrient entirely. This is because much of the fiber is found in the skins of these plant foods and during the refining process, those skins are removed and thus, the fiber is with it.
The Types Of Dietary Fiber
Before we go on to talk about the benefits of dietary fiber, it’s important to note the different types that you can consume. There are two types; soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. For optimal health, you want to be taking in a combination of both of these varieties.
Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that will dissolve readily in water and may also offer prebiotic properties. This means that it encourages the growth of the good bacteria that live inside the gut. These are needed for the proper breakdown of the foods you eat and for keeping your immune system strong. Those who are lacking this type of dietary fiber, and therefore prebiotics, may come to find they are falling ill more often and aren’t experiencing as much energy as they’d like on a day to day basis. This form of fiber can also be viscous forming fiber, meaning that as it dissolves in the water in your digestive tract, it forms a gel, which offers great health benefits, which we’ll be discussing momentarily.
In contrast to soluble fiber, you also then have insoluble fiber. As the name suggests, this is a type of fiber that does not break down in the digestive tract and instead, passes through the body. It’s often what most people think of when they think of fiber as most have the idea that fiber increases bowel movements. It’s this type of fiber that is having this effect. Because this type of fiber does pass through the system undigested, it also does not impact your total calorie balance, so these grams of carbohydrates do not need to be included in your total daily calorie intake. As such, those with diets rich in insoluble fiber tend to experience greater ability to control their body weight. While insoluble fiber has a net calorie value of zero (since it is not absorbed), soluble fiber does contain calories just like any other gram of carbohydrate. A general practice is to simply average this out and account for around 2 grams of carbs per gram of fiber you eat, however most people simply don’t account for this, allowing the lower calorie value give them an added boost for their weight loss efforts. Unless you want to be extremely exact with your calorie counting efforts, it’s fine to just disregard the slightly lowered net calorie balance. Just do keep in mind that eating more fiber will help increase weight loss results if that’s a goal for you.
The Benefits Of Dietary Fiber
Now that you see the types of dietary fiber, what are the benefits? The benefits of fiber are unique to the type that you’re eating. When consuming soluble dietary fiber, because this fiber forms a gel in your body, it’s going to slow the passage of food through the stomach, increasing the duration that you feel satisfied after a meal. If you find that on your diet you’re hungry only an hour or two after eating, this could very well be due to the lack of fiber in your plan. Because this fiber slows the digestion process, it’s also going to do a great job at controlling blood sugar levels. When you eat carb-rich foods, these carbohydrates break down into simpler sugar molecules, which are then released into the bloodstream. The faster digestion is taking place, the faster these molecules will be released, potentially leading to a rapid spike in blood glucose levels. This can set you up for an increased risk factor for diabetes, not to mention a blood glucose crash, which comes shortly after this and will cause you to feel irritable and fatigue. Since fiber slows down the release of this glucose into the blood stream, you won’t get these undesirable effects taking place. Finally, another key benefit of soluble fiber is that it can help lower total cholesterol levels in the body as well. The fiber, as it forms that gel, will bind with cholesterol particles in the body and then will transport them out before they have a chance to be absorbed, leading to high cholesterol numbers. So for those looking to improve their heart-health and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, eating enough soluble fiber is key.
When it comes to the benefits insoluble fiber brings, as noted above, improved regularity is one of the biggest. Insoluble fiber will help to speed up the passage of stool from the body, reducing the chances that it sits inside your system and starts to become toxic, potentially increasing your risk factor for colon cancer. It also helps to make the stool softer, so can ease passage out of the body as well. Keeping your body regular can go a long way towards helping decrease digestive discomfort and is often used to treat those who are suffering from hemorrhoids or constipation. Finally, foods that are rich in insoluble fiber typically take more time to chew, so this can slow down the speed in which you eat, having positive weight loss benefits as well. The slower you are consuming your food, the easier it will be to recognise the satiety signals you body is sending you indicating that you’ve had enough.
The Best Sources Of Fiber
Given all these powerful benefits, you can easily see why eating fiber is important. Where can you find it? You’ll typically find both types of fiber in most high-fiber foods, so as long as you focus on getting a mix of fiber-rich choices, you don’t need to worry specifically about looking at the two types separately. Generally speaking, the highest amounts of soluble fiber will be found in foods such as legumes, oats, barley, avocados, apples, pears, broccoli, carrots, nuts and seeds, along with root tubers like sweet potatoes.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, will be found in most whole grain foods (again, including oats and barley), legumes, nuts and seeds, lignans (such as flaxseeds), green beans, cauliflower, courgettes and celery, along with fruits such as grapes and tomatoes. If you focus on simply eating a diet right in wholesome grains, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with some nuts and seeds, you’ll find that you are right on tracking with getting your fiber requirements met.
How Much Fiber You Should Eat Daily
Which now brings us to those fiber requirements – how much do you really need? The general recommendation is for women eating a 2000 calorie diet per day to aim for around 25 grams and men who eat slightly more, around 2500 calories per day, to take in 30 grams of fiber total. If you aren’t quite at these numbers, work on getting there slowly. What you don’t want to do is dramatically increase your fiber intake suddenly as doing so will likely lead you to experience a great deal of digestive strain. Let your body adapt to the increased fiber consumption by adding just 5 grams every 2-3 days until you reach your target.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
Finally, take note that you can get too much of a good thing. If your fiber intake gets too high, you may experience an increased level of gas and bloating and you may also struggle to absorb nutrients properly in the body as the fiber is causing them to be passed out prior to digestion. In addition to this, too much fiber can also cause dehydration as well since water is absorbed in the formation of gel and then passed out of the body, leaving you with less water left over for other necessary functions. Eat enough fiber, but don’t go overboard.
So there you have the key facts about dietary fiber. It’s one important nutrient that you don’t want to be overlooking in your meal plan. Are you getting enough?
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