Are All Fibers Created Equal?

Fibers As Health Food

Unless you’ve had your head stuck in the sand, you’ve heard the hype you need fiber in your diet. Well, actually, it’s true, you do. But the question is, what kind and how much? Because you see, all fibers are NOT created equal.

The fiber in your diet comes from plants. It’s the part of the plant that isn’t digested by enzymes in the intestinal tract, though some parts may be metabolized by bacteria in the lower gut. It is found ONLY in plant foods: fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains. There is no fiber in eggs, meat or milk.

Different plants have varying amounts and types of fiber, including pectin, gum, mucilage, cellulose, hemicellulose or lignin fiber. Of these fibers, pectin and gum are water soluble and found inside plant cells. They slow the passage of food through the intestines but don’t add bulk. These water soluble fibers are found in beans, fruit, vegetables and oat bran.

Cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin are fibers found in cell walls. They are water insoluble and do increase the bulk in the intestines, thus speeding up the passage of food through the digestive tract. Most of this type of fiber can be found in whole grains and wheat bran, though some vegetables and beans are also good sources.

Generally speaking, the nearer the food is to its original form, the more fiber it has. No surprise there.  However, it may surprise you to know canned or frozen fruits and vegetables actually contain just as much fiber as raw fruits and vegetables.

Drying or crushing foods, on the other hand, destroys the water holding quality of fiber, and the removal of seeds, peels or hulls also reduces the fiber content. (This is why 100% whole grain breads have more fiber than white breads.)

How Much Fiber?

Roughly speaking, for every 1000 calories you comes, 14 grams of that should be fiber. Most people don’t eat enough fiber since most people don’t eat several servings of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and dried beans every day. Adding these foods is obviously a good way to boost fiber intake.

What Makes Fiber A Health Food?

Fiber is good for the treatment and prevention of constipation, diverticulosis, and hemorrhoids.  It also helps lower blood cholesterol levels by helping the body to excrete cholesterol in bile acids. Some fibers work better at this than others, with oats working better than wheat. Quaker Oats isn’t kidding, eating oatmeal really does help lower your cholesterol.

Not only that, but there is now strong evidence that fiber is linked to a reduced risk of diabetes.  Water soluble fibers like oats and barley help control blood sugar by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates.

Adding more fiber to your diet is an easy health food change, but if you aren’t used to fiber don’t go crazy and add a bunch all at once. You’ll likely be sorry if you do, since your body won’t be used to the suddenly increased amount of fiber, and that may result in gas and/or diarrhea.

Once again, it’s better to make changes a little at a time! Add a little more fiber to your diet gradually, and do good things for your health without making yourself suffer in the process.

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