Five Things to Know About Fiber
- Fiber, also known as dietary fiber, is a thread-like substance found in plants.
- Fiber cannot be completely digested by your body.
- One gram of fiber contains about two calories.
- Fiber helps reduce weight. It lowers the risk of heart diseases and some cancers.
- Fiber can be found only in plant foods. Meat, fish and dairy products do not contain fiber.
Types of Fiber
The two main types of fiber are soluble and insoluble fiber. All plants contain both types but the relative amounts can vary.
What Is Soluble Fiber?
Soluble fiber is a plant food component that dissolves in water forming gel.
It helps us:
- Eat less. The soluble fiber gel slows down the passage of food from the stomach and this keeps us feeling full for longer after a meal.
- Lower the risk of heart attacks and stroke. The main reason for these diseases is high cholesterol level. The excess cholesterol builds up on the inner walls of blood vessels and causes them to gradually narrow. This narrowing progresses to a complete blockage in the form of a heart attack or stroke. Soluble fiber in the diet reduces cholesterol levels in the blood and lowers this risk.
- Control blood sugar level. Soluble fiber slows down the absorption of glucose into the blood stream, thus stabilizing blood sugar levels. This reduces insulin requirements and is especially helpful for people suffering with diabetes. Diabetes sufferers, however, should carefully monitor their fruit intake, because fruits are not only rich in fiber but also in sugars.
Good sources of soluble fiber are:
- legumes (peas, kidney beans, lentils);
- oatmeal and oat bran;
- brown rice;
- pectin-rich fruits, i.e. citrus fruits, apples and pears;
What Is Insoluble Fiber?
Insoluble fiber is a coarse material that does not dissolve in water and passes through the digestive tract almost unchanged.
It helps us:
- Prevent or relieve constipation. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the food increasing the rate at which food passes through the digestive tract, thus relieving constipation.
- Reduce the risk of bowel cancer. When food moves through the digestive tract quickly, there is less time left for harmful substances to build up in the intestine. This may help prevent bowel cancer.
- Prevent hemorrhoids. Insoluble fiber makes food move faster through the intestine. This reduces pressure in the intestine, the main reason for hemorrhoids.
Good sources of insoluble fiber are:
- wholemeal and wholegrain bread;
- skins of fruits and vegetables;
How to Eat Enough Fiber
It is easy if you:
- eat 3-4 slices of wholemeal bread a day;
- add raisins and fruits to cereals, risottos and salads;
- do not substitute juice for fruits. Juice isn't rich in fiber, fruit is;
- avoid peeling vegetables before cooking and eat the skin;
- replace some of the meat in soups, casseroles and other dishes with kidney beans or lentils;
- eat fresh fruits and vegetables raw and unpeeled whenever possible;
- snack on fresh or dried fruit, raw vegetables, nuts or wholemeal crackers.
There are some important things you should remember when increasing your fiber intake:
- Increase fiber intake gradually. Adding too much fiber can cause constipation, diarrhea, bloating and other digestive discomforts. These side effects are usually temporary.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Without enough water, insoluble fiber can block the digestive system, resulting in constipation. To avoid this, drink about 8-10 cups of fluid a day.
- Watch your mineral intake. Fiber binds some minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium. This can prevent them from being properly absorbed into your body from your digestive system. This may be a problem for people who have existing problems with mineral absorption.
- Consult a doctor. Before increasing fiber intake drastically, it is wise to consult a dietician or doctor.
- Be reasonable. Although soluble fiber can be an important part of a heart-healthy diet, you should remember that it is only one part of the healthy diet. For example, you cannot just eat a bowl of oatmeal and expect it to lower cholesterol levels when the rest of your diet is high in fat.
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