When people talk about dietary fiber, they immediately think of older people taking large fiber tablets. The truth is, proper fiber intake can benefit everyone at any age. Fiber intake can help ease digestion and it can also lower cholesterol, which is a leading cause of heart disease, making it a highly effective, multi-purpose treatment for healthy living.
What’s interesting about fiber is that it isn’t an essential nutrient in the sense that a body absolutely requires it for survival or adds something missing from the body. Instead, dietary fiber is a nutrient that helps act against harmful processes such as blood sugar variations, high cholesterol, and digestive discomfort.
Soluble vs. Insoluble
As far as dietary fiber is concerned, there are two types; soluble and insoluble. These have different effects that are all essential to a healthy body.
Both types of fiber provide bulk to any meal, lending to a feeling of fullness. This can reduce appetite and lead to eating smaller portions that can help weight control as well as provide the other digestive benefits expected of fibers.
Soluble Fiber prevents constipation by keeping the body’s digestion process regular and steady. It also reduces the time digestive toxins remain in the system, which promotes a healthier digestive system as a whole. It helps regulate the pH of the intestines, helping prevent the development of colon cancer.
Soluble fiber also bonds with water to form a gel that limits the absorption of glucose, which keeps blood sugar stable and limits spikes or valleys in your glucose level. This helps reduce the possibility of metabolic syndrome (a combination of medical disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease) or the onset of diabetes.
It is soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol, both the total cholesterol and the low-density lipoprotein, (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) which leads to heart disease. Cholesterol builds up in the walls of the arteries, which carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This results in a hardening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. Blood flow is drastically reduced, blood pressure rises, and oxygen carried to the heart is reduced. This puts extra strain on the entire system, eventually leading to heart attacks or outright heart failure. In many ways, controlling the level of LDL cholesterol in the body is the most beneficial result of proper soluble fiber intake.
Green vegetables such as peas and various beans, oats, and rye are good sources of soluble fiber. Good fruits include the inside of apples and pears, as well as bananas, plums and prunes. Oats, barley, and rye are good grain sources, and the skins of root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots can also be beneficial. Stringy green vegetables like broccoli and artichokes shouldn’t be neglected either.
Insoluble fiber also helps keep the digestive system’s pH in balance, reducing gastric acid buildup and keeping the digestive system regular. Irregular bowel function is more than an inconvenience – it can also lead to dehydration and lower gastro-intestinal tract injury. Regular body function also helps reduce physical and emotional stress, further contributing to overall wellness.
Whole grain foods are an important source of insoluble fiber. It may be a good idea to switch out your artificially enriched sweet white bread for organic, whole grain breads made with 100% wheat and grains. Nuts and seeds are another good source of insoluble fiber that can be had as a tasty snack instead of a heavy meal. Just make sure they aren’t heavy in salts.
How Much is Enough?
Dietary recommendations for a 2000-calorie daily diet include twenty to thirty five grams per day. Children have different needs, however, and it is recommended that they should have a number of grams equal to their age plus five (so an eight year old would require 13 grams per day).
The elderly and the ill have their own requirements. Certain medications such as painkillers can interact in unexpected ways with fiber, so a doctor should be consulted in these cases.
Making the Commitment
Dietary fiber is an important nutrient. However, as with many commitments to better health, it doesn’t require a complete dietary change. Instead, the best method is to gradually include new sources of fiber into your existing diet. Consider trading white bread for a whole grain loaf and replacing chip or cracker snacks with high-fiber, low salt nuts. Vegetables and fruits that are high in fiber can also be blended into smoothies or shakes, making getting your daily fiber as easy as having a healthy beverage at the beginning and the end of each day.
Perhaps the best advice is to take a look at what you’re already eating, talk to a dietician, and modify your diet to fit your personal needs. There are dozens of resources available for research on nutritional information, from government and independent sources alike. The results of these changes will definitely be helpful, leaving you nothing to lose but poor health.