Fiber does several good things for the body like promoting colon health, lowering blood cholesterol and helping manage weight. There are many different types of fibers found in a variety of foods. Although most fibers have more than one positive effect, no one fiber does everything. It is important to eat a variety of fiber types every day to help the body function well.
Historically, fibers have been described as insoluble (fiber that does not dissolve in water) or soluble (fiber that dissolves in water). Recent research has shown that a fiber’s ability to be dissolved is not always tied to its health effects. For example, some soluble fibers provide bulk (increase size and weight of stool), which has historically been associated with insoluble fiber. In addition, some insoluble fibers (i.e., resistant starch), are broken down by bacteria in the large intestine, which was previously associated with soluble fibers. Thus, scientists and healthcare professionals are now moving away from using the terms “soluble” and “insoluble.”
In recent years, the food industry has started adding fiber to commonly eaten foods and beverages so that people have more options for fiber containing products. These fibers can be incorporated into many types of foods and beverages that people enjoy every day while offering health benefits similar to the fibers found in fruits and vegetables.
Fiber ingredients can be used to boost the amount of fiber in foods and beverages with fiber already in them (such as whole grain breads and cereals) as well as to add fiber to foods and beverages that do not usually contain fiber. Added fiber can now be found in many foods like yogurt, cereals, breads, fruit juices, milk, tortillas, baked goods, ice cream, candy, and nutrition supplement bars and beverages. With a growing number of fiber-rich products now on the market, consumers can more easily meet their daily fiber needs.
What Is a High Fiber Diet?
Adult women should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber a day, while men should try to get at least 38 grams. Unfortunately, according to the American Heart Association, most Americans only get about half of what they need.
How Dietary Fibers Works
Three ways different types of dietary fiber benefits you are by: (1) increasing size and weight of stool (bulking), (2) thickening gastrointestinal contents (viscosity), and (3) increasing activity of good bacteria in the gut (fermentation). Fibers that provide bulk increase the size and weight of the stool and assist in reducing constipation and improving bowel movement regularity. Viscous fibers thicken the contents of the gastrointestinal tract to help lower blood cholesterol and lower the glycemic impact of foods. Fibers broken down by the bacteria in the colon (also called prebiotics) boost the growth of good bacteria in the intestine, which supports the immune system and helps the body absorb some minerals. Although many dietary fibers provide more than one benefit, no one fiber provides all of them. So, it is important to eat many types of dietary fibers to maximize health benefits.
Benefits of a High-Fiber Diet
The health benefits of dietary fibers include:
- Reduced constipation
- Improved digestive tract health
- Lower blood cholesterol levels
- Reduced glycemic response (how quickly blood sugar level increases)
- Colonic fermentation
- Increased mineral absorption
- Increased immune support
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Increased satiety (feeling full)
- Weight management