What Does Fiber Really Do?

Sliced Fresh Red Bell Pepper  Source: www.freefoodphotos.com

Sliced Fresh Red Bell Pepper  Source: www.freefoodphotos.com

Written by Nutrition Intern & Contributor Chloe Cassecuelle

 

“Aids in weight management!”

“Promotes gut health!”

“Helps control blood sugar!” 

“Improves blood cholesterol levels!”


    These are just a few of the first things that appear in Google results upon searching “benefits of fiber”, but the list of advantages that fiber can offer goes on even further. And have you ever wondered what fiber really is? Well, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered! You'll find everything you need to know about this type of carbohydrate (yes, fiber is in the carbohydrate family!) right here.

What is fiber?

Fiber, also known as roughage, is the non-digestible part of plants (Kubow, 2016). It is a type of carbohydrate and is present in two forms: soluble and insoluble fiber. Both varieties are beneficial to our health in different ways. Insoluble fiber is composed of resistant starch, cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, which are all substances that are not soluble in water (Aleixandre, 2016). Insoluble fiber is not fermentable and moves rapidly through the digestive system, helping food maneuver through our intestines in an accelerated manner (Harvard, 2016). On the other hand, soluble fiber is primarily composed of water-soluble elements such as gums, pectins, inulin, and fructooligosaccharides. These compounds form gels and make up stool bulk (Aleixandre, 2016).  

What are the health benefits of dietary fiber?

Helps to Manage Constipation and Diverticular Disease
As mentioned previously, insoluble fiber helps to move food faster through the digestive system. As a result, this enables one to have more frequent bowel movements and an amelioration in stool texture. Soluble fiber may also play a role in alleviating constipation as it attracts water molecules to the food in the digestive tract, helping with digestion and feces consistency. 

Improves Heart Health and Metabolic Syndrome
Strong evidence shows a negative correlation between the consumption of soluble fiber and the risk of developing coronary heart disease (Wu Y et al., 2015). This is primarily related to the fact that dietary fiber improves blood glucose and blood lipid concentrations. Soluble fiber in oats particularly has shown to be protective against cardiovascular disease. Soluble fiber plays an important role in binding to cholesterol molecules and helping the body excrete them (Aleixandre, 2016) (Kubow, 2016). Since high blood cholesterol levels are associated with high risks of developing heart disease, consuming soluble fiber is a great solution to better health! 

Promotes Gut Health and Can Protect Against Colon Cancer
The constituents of soluble fiber that are not digested get released in the colon where colonic bacteria reside (Kubow, 2016). These constituents are a source of fuel for intestinal bacteria. These microorganisms metabolize and release polyphenols from the fiber, which can have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Moreover, when fiber is metabolized by colonic bacteria, they release short-chain fatty acids that are generated from the fiber. This helps conserve colonic health and protects against colon cancer by maintaining the liability of colonic cells. 

Aids In Weight Management
Dietary fiber provides bulk in our plates. It is present in nutrient-rich and low-energy dense foods (Kubow, 2016). As a result, one gets full much faster with a larger physical amount of food but a lower amount of calories without depriving themselves from essential nutrients! This increases satiety and decreases appetite which can lead to better weight management, weight loss, and decreasing the risk of obesity (Aleixandre, 2016). Moreover, fiber-rich foods take longer to chew and longer to eat due to the bulk of food on the plate (think about a large bowl of lettuce and vegetables!). This therefore increases the time an individual takes to consume a meal, making them more aware of their hunger signals and when they are full. Additionally, soluble fiber creates a gel-like substance in the gut, slowing down digestion and keeping individuals full for longer periods of time. This increases time in between meals, helping individuals reduce their food intake, which consequently aids in weight management and weight loss.  

What conditions benefit the most from dietary fiber?

- Fiber promotes fullness for obese or overweight individuals looking to lose weight
- Fiber helps keep blood sugar stable, including for those with Type II Diabetes
- Fiber helps manage blood pressure and fight hypertension
- Fiber can help decrease digestive abnormalities with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Fiber can help manage the blood sugar and weight symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome
- Fiber can help improve blood lipids in those with Dyslipidemia and Hypercholesterolemia

Where can I find dietary fiber? 

Soluble Fiber: Oats, oat bran, barley, nuts, beans and lentils, apples , peanuts, and blueberries, and each of our Golda Bar flavors

Insoluble Fiber: Whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fresh fruits and vegetable peels & seeds

(Gardner, 2015) 

 

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References: 

Aleixandre A, Miguel M. (2016). Dietary fiber and blood pressure control. Food Funct; 7:1864-1871.

Gardner A. (2015). Soluble and Insoluble fiber: What’s the difference? WebMD. Retrieved May 13, 2016 from: http://www.webmd.com/diet/insoluble-soluble-fiber 

Harvard University. (2016). Fiber. School of Public Health. Retrieved May 13, 2016 from: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/

Kubow S. (2016). Nutrition Through Life course lecture material. McGill University. Montreal, Canada.

Wu Y, Qian Y, Pan Y, Li P, Yang J, Ye X, Xu G. (2014). Association between dietary fiber intake and risk of coronary heart disease: A meta-analysis. Clinical Nutrition;34(4):603-611.