What is Fiber?
Everyone knows that fiber is important for optimal health. However, it is commonly neglected when qualitative changes are made to a diet. What is fiber and why is it important to track it along with fat, carbohydrates, and protein?
Fiber is the non-digestible part of plants that form the support structure of leaves, stems, and seeds. Fiber exists in two forms, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber can be dissolved into a gel-like substance in the large intestine while insoluble fiber remains relatively intact throughout the digestive tract. The ratios of insoluble to soluble fibers vary between sources. See the chart below for ratios.
Fiber can increase the weight and size of stool, thus easing its ability to pass through the colon. Fiber may also lower the risk of multiple colon disorders.
Research has shown that fiber has the ability to lower bad LDL cholesterol. Some research also shows fiber may play a role in lowering inflammation and blood pressure.
Blood Sugar Control
Fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, thus reducing the risk for acute spikes in blood sugar.
Weight Loss or Maintenance
Fiber helps with weight loss and maintenance in a variety of ways.
- More chewing time with most high fiber foods equals more time for your brain to register that you are full.
- Fiber is satiating: you will feel fuller longer after a high fiber meal compared to a low fiber meal. Some research shows high fiber breakfasts keep hunger levels lower throughout the day. Some fiber stimulates CCK, an appetite suppressing hormone in the gut.
- Fiber has a higher energy cost to digest and provides fewer calories than a gram of carbohydrate.
- 50 or younger at least 38g per day
- 50+ at least 30g per day
- 50 or younger at least 25g per day
- 50+ at least 21g per day
Ideas to Add Fiber?
High sources of fiber are easy to find. Most fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains are really high in fiber. Whole food sources such as those listed below tend to be better than supplements because they contain other beneficial nutrients. If you really struggle with fiber intake, buy a well-rounded supplement with both forms of fiber. Adding too much fiber too quickly can cause gas, bloating, and cramping. Track your fiber, and if you are low, slowly add in additional fiber over a few weeks so that your body can adjust its natural bacteria content in the gut.
Fiber’s many health benefits make it an important nutrient to track regardless of fitness or nutritional goals. If your fiber intake is low relative to the recommendations above, start adding some high fiber foods to your grocery list. Remember that adding in fiber too fast can cause digestion issues, so start by adding 3-4 grams per day to your average intake each week. For example: If you consume 10g per day, the following week you should try to consume 13-14g per day, then the following week 16-18g per day, and so forth until you reach the recommended amount for your age and gender.