What is Dietary Fiber and Why Should I Care?

Have you ever wondered why there are animals that can live on grass alone but for us, green leaves are low-calorie foods? Fiber is the answer. Most dietary fibers are complex types of carbohydrates that our body cannot break down to use for energy.

For some animals, their digestive system contains bacteria that break down the fiber into sugar that nourishes the animal. In the human large intestine, the gut bacteria break down the fiber to create new substances to feed other bacteria or are absorbed by the body.

Research shows eating recommended amounts of fiber can help the body in many ways. For example, improved regularity, insulin sensitivity, weight, and cholesterol. 

Where Can We Find Dietary Fiber in Our Food?

Fiber is found in pant foods: vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. In some cases, we can find dietary fibers added artificially to animal-based foods.

What are the Two Types of Fiber?

  • Soluble Fiber - This type of fiber dissolves into a gel-like substance. It can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. These fibers can be found in beans, peas, oats, beans, apples, carrots, etc.
  • Insoluble Fiber - This type of fiber adds bulk and helps movement through your digestive system. It helps us stay regular. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole wheat flour, what bran, nuts, beans, vegetables, etc.

How Much Should I Be Eating to Get the Benefits?

It is best to talk to your dietitian for individualized recommendations, but the Institute of Medicine generally recommends:

                                                              Age 50 and younger                          Age 51 and older

Men 38 grams 30 grams
Women 25 grams 21 grams

 

What Else Should I Know?

If you are not eating enough fiber now, try to increase slowly over a few weeks. If you try to add too much too fast, you may have gas, bloating, or cramps. The bacteria in your gut need time to adjust to the change.

Also, be sure to drink plenty of water. Water helps the fiber move through the system. Without enough water, you could end up constipated. 

 

 

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