Dietary Fiber – Why Do We Need It?

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Dietary Fiber – Why Do We Need It?

“You should eat more fiber.”

You probably have heard this from someone, somewhere. For a lot of people, high fiber foods is good for the tummy, as it is already common knowledge that it can aid in better digestion and help in the treatment and prevention of constipation. While that is true and is indeed one of the wonders of fiber, it can give your body way more than better tummy conditions. Dietary fiber has a lot of other amazing benefits to the body and the good news is that you can easily find it in everyday food--making it a healthy yet very accessible nutrient.

In this article, we will learn more about dietary fiber--what is it, what it can and cannot do for you, and why do you need it.

What is dietary fiber?

Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, is one of the nutrients that can be derived from plant-based food. Dietary fiber cannot be broken down by human digestive enzymes. Unlike other nutrients that can enter our body--such as fat, sugar (or carbohydrates), and protein--dietary fiber is not “digested” by the stomach. Rather, it passes from your stomach to your small intestines, to your colon, and out of your body.

Types of dietary fiber can be classified into two--soluble and insoluble. The differences between the two are their sources, their reaction to water, and the way it helps your body overall.

Soluble fiber, or the type of fiber that dissolves in water to form a gel-like reaction, is often found in oats, beans, peas, barley, and psyllium. In fruits, it can be found in apples and a number of citruses. One of the main benefits of this type of fiber is to help promote better levels of cholesterol and sugar in the blood.

Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, is the type of fiber that does not dissolve or break down when combined with water. This is the type of fiber that is responsible for promoting a better movement of material throughout your entire digestive system. For people with constipation or who are suffering from irregular bowel movement patterns, this type of fiber may help giving better stool conditions and a more regulated pattern of trips to the toilet.

Why do we need dietary fiber?

There is one simple answer to this-we need dietary fiber because it helps in keeping a number of essential processes and functions of the body in perfect shape. This includes digestion, blood flow and condition, weight management, and even promoting a longer life overall.

This is why you often what, or perhaps you are one of the people giving the common advice that “you need more fiber.” However, the reality is that most people often lack the optimal amount of fiber from their diet.

One research found out that in the United States, there are only at least 5% of the population are getting the recommended fiber intake from their daily diet. This means that in the US alone, the majority of its population--a whopping 95% of it--could use a boost in their fiber intake.

Where can we get dietary fiber?

You may not even know it, but dietary fiber is around you already--you can actually get the right amount of it just from whole foods that you can easily buy anywhere. There are even fiber rich foods for kids, not just for adults.

Some of the most common sources of soluble dietary fiber include:

  • Various types of beans
  • Fruits, especially citrus--types
  • Oats, or oatmeal products
  • Various types of nuts
  • Green leafy vegetables

The same set of foods can also be a good source of insoluble fiber. In addition to all of these, insoluble fiber can be obtained from whole grain products.

If you are a fan of eating oatmeal products, it is important to understand that most processed oat products have lesser fiber, due to the fact that most types of oatmeal have the outer coating of the grains, or the bran, removed. This part is where the majority of the fiber is. On the other hand, there are now oatmeal products that are enriched with bran and thus richer in dietary fiber. 

What happens when you lack dietary fiber?

The lack of dietary fiber in your body could lead to minor effects such as digestive conditions to major possible effects such as a significant increase in the risk of acquiring certain diseases.

Someone who lacks dietary fiber would probably be constipated, or at least notice that they rarely have the need to release stool--some people only go for a trip to the toilet less than three times a week. When they do, it is often too hard, painful, and can even be too dark in color.

Another sign that you may be lacking dietary fiber already is weight gain. This is because dietary fiber contributes to the feeling of satiety, and thus the lack of it would result in a more and prolonged feeling of hunger and in turn, higher caloric intake.

Other negative impacts of the lack of dietary fiber on your body include irregular blood pressure levels, higher cholesterol levels, and a higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

How much fiber per day is recommended?

Can you overdose on dietary fiber? You probably know the old saying that “too much of anything can be bad for you.” Even in health and nutrition, it is true. While there is no doubt that dietary fiber is good for your body, too much of it can bring harm instead of good.

Overdose in fiber can happen if you do not monitor the amount of it that you include in your diet, or if you suddenly increase the amount of it without letting your body gradually adjust first.

Effects of fiber overdose can be as simple as bloating, abdominal pain, loose bowel movement or diarrhea, flatulence or too much passing of gas, and even temporary weight gain. On the other hand, it can also be a danger for people with existing conditions.

For people with diabetes, too much fiber can be dangerous as it can result in sugar levels that can be too low. Those with Crohn’s disease can also experience intestinal blockage if they have too much fiber intake.

 

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