The Power of Fiber

By Lori S. Kiker MS, RDN, LD, CSO

Fiber is only found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. The fibers of a plant form the supporting structure of its leaves, stems, and seeds. Fiber, just like starch, is a chain of glucoses; however fiber has different bonds which cannot be broken by human digestive enzymes.

Inadequate fiber in the diet is associated with several diseases, whereas the consumption of recommended levels of fiber offers many health benefits.

Fiber has two forms, insoluble and soluble, each of which has a positive effect on your overall health.

Soluble Fiber either dissolves or swells when placed in water. It is found in beans, oats, peas, barley, broccoli, carrots, and potatoes, to name a few. Soluble fiber helps to reduce your risk of heart disease by binding with cholesterol in the digestive tract. Soluble fiber also helps with diabetes, as it may improve blood sugar tolerance by delaying glucose absorption.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is found in wheat bran, brown rice, nuts, seed, and the peelings of fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fiber helps with digestive tract disorders such as constipation, diverticulitis, and hemorrhoids by holding water in the colon, thereby increasing bulk and stimulating the muscles of the digestive tract so that they retain their health and tone. The toned muscles can more easily move waste products through the colon. Soluble fiber may also help prevent colon cancer by speeding the transit time through the intestines, thus limiting exposure to carcinogens.

Both types of fiber help with obesity by replacing calories from fat, providing satiety, and prolonging eating time because of chewiness of food.

The current average intake of fiber amongst Americans is 14-15 grams per day. The recommended intake for men is 30 grams per day and for women it is 25 grams per day. To prevent intestinal discomfort increase your fiber intake slowly. You can get too much of a good thing. Too much fiber can cause dehydration, malabsorption of nutrients, and intestinal discomfort.

As always it is best to get your fiber through the foods you eat, versus supplements. If you include a variety of whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables in your diet, you get both soluble and insoluble fiber that you need.