Americans just do not get enough fiber each day, and this isn’t surprising, since fiber is the indigestible portion of plant foods, and the standard American diet is largely refined, with the healthful fibers often processed out.
Unless you regularly eat whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, and seeds, you are probably missing out on the healthiest forms of fiber available – and that is a problem. Individuals with high intakes of dietary fiber appear to be at significantly lower risk for developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
There are two forms of fiber: soluble and insoluble, that are found naturally in the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains we eat. When the fiber in these foods pass through our digestive system, it remains either undigested or gets digested. Both types of fiber are equally important for health, digestion, and preventing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and various types of cancers.
Benefits Of Fiber
There’s no shortage of research showing how fiber may boost your health. Some of its top potential benefits include:
- Blood Sugar Control: Soluble fiber helps slow the body’s breakdown of carbs and the absorption of sugar, aiding blood sugar control.
- Reduces Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes: The Harvard studies of male health professionals and female nurses both found that a diet high in cereal fiber was linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Other studies, such as the Black Women’s Health Study and the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition–Potsdam, have found similar results.
- Provides Heart Health: Research shows that those eating a high-fiber diet have a 40% lower risk of heart disease.
- Reduces Stroke Risk: Researchers found that for every seven-grams more fiber you consume on a daily basis, your stroke risk is decreased by 7%.
- Weight Loss & Weight Management: Fiber supplements have been shown to enhance weight loss among obese people, likely because fiber increases feelings of fullness.
- Less Risk Of Heart Disease: High intake of dietary fiber has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease in a number of large studies that followed people for many years. In a Harvard study of over 40,000 male health professionals, researchers found that a high total dietary fiber intake was linked to a 40% lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to a low fiber intake.
- Diverticulitis: Dietary fiber (especially insoluble) can reduce your risk of diverticulitis (an inflammation of polyps in the intestine) by 40%.
- Hemorrhoids: A high-fiber diet can lower your risk of hemorrhoids.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Fiber may provide some relief from IBS.
- Skin Health: Fiber, but particularly psyllium husk, can help move yeast and fungus from the body, preventing them from being excreted through your skin where they could trigger acne or rashes.
- Gallstones & Kidney Stones: A high-fiber diet will help reduce the risk of gallstones and kidney stones, because of its ability to help regulate blood sugar.
The difference between the two fibers affects how they'll benefit your body and health. Soluble fiber absorbs water and swells to take on a gel-like consistency that slows down digestion, and delays the emptying of your stomach to keep you full longer. Think of soluble fiber like oatmeal, and how it becomes soft and a bit “gooey” when liquid is added. The gel binds with cholesterol and bile acids in the small intestine and eliminates them from the body. Common foods that are known to have soluble fiber in them are oat bran, seeds, nuts, beans, peas, and various fruits and other vegetables. Some types of soluble fiber can help lower LDL (bad) blood cholesterol as well.
Insoluble fibers are considered gut-healthy fiber because they have a laxative effect, which in turn helps prevent constipation. These fibers do not dissolve in water, so they pass thorough the body rather intact. This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through the digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans brown rice, barley, corn and vegetables, such as cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.
How Much Fiber Per Day
Now you may be wondering just how much fiber, both soluble and insoluble, you need to reap the benefits? The average American consumes around 11 to 15 grams of dietary fiber per day, which is no where near the recommended amount for both men and women. The DRI for men and women under the age of 50 is 38 grams (men) and 25 grams (women) per day. Men and women over the age of 50 are recommend to drop their intake to 30 and 21 grams respectively.
Evaluating The Fiber In Your Foods
You can perform a Quick Fiber Check to score your foods, and it takes only a minute or two to learn. By learning this system, you'll automatically be able to estimate the fiber content of virtually everything in the grocery store.
Vegetables & Fruit
- Beans: Each serving of beans or lentils (one serving = one half cup) or any food that includes about this amount of beans or lentils as an ingredient Score 7
- Soymilk: One cup of, Score 1
- Vegetables: For each serving of vegetables (one serving = one cup), Scores 4
- Potato with skin Scores 4, without the skin, Scores 2
- Lettuce: One cup scores 2
- Fruit: For each medium piece of fruit (e.g., apple, orange, banana, one cup of apple sauce, a banana smoothie), Score 3
- Juice: One cup of juice, Score 1
- Bran: Score 8
- Oatmeal: One cup of cooked, Score 4
- Whole Grain Breads: Score 3
- Brown Rice, Score 3
- Whole Grain Pasta: One cup of cooked pasta, Score 2
- White Bread, Bagel, or equivalent, Score 1
- White Rice: One cup of Score 1
- Tofu: One half cup, Score 3
Quick Fiber Check Score
Less than 20: You need more fiber in your diet. Without more fiber, your appetite will be hard to control, and you may have occasional constipation. Boosting fiber will help tame your appetite and can cut your risk of many health problems.
20–39: You are doing better than most people in Western countries, but as you bring more fiber into your diet, you will find that it makes foods more satisfying and cuts your calorie intake.
40 or more: Congratulations. You have plenty of healthy fiber in your diet. This will tame your appetite and help keep you healthy, reducing your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and digestive problems.
Counting Net Carbs
Net carbs are simply the grams of total carbohydrates in a portion of food, with its grams of fiber subtracted. Because fiber is a carbohydrate that your body cannot digest, it does not raise your blood sugar levels or trigger an insulin response. The presence of fiber in the digestive tract also slows the absorption of any other carbohydrates, lessening blood sugar spikes and insulin release.
At A Glance Guide Of Soluble & Insoluble Fiber