The Health Benefits and Importance of Dietary Fiber

There are 2 types of dietary fiber – water soluble and water insoluble.  Water-soluble fiber can be found in fruits, oats, barley and legumes.  Water-insoluble fiber can be found in vegetables, wheat and other grains.  Both soluble and insoluble fiber are necessary for good digestive health.  Fiber-rich foods work as a “brush” to sweep out the colon and keep things moving along smoothly.  The lack of adequate fiber in one’s diet has serious and cumulative consequences on first the function of the bowel, and then these consequences produce a ripple-effect causing a cascade of unwanted imbalances and disease within other parts of our body.

The Poop “Scoop”

Fecal bulk consists of undigested food, fiber, intestinal secretions, bacteria, and the remains of dead intestinal cells.  Some of the foods we eat are NOT digestible because they are either chemically processed, or they have been cooked at high temperatures.  Yes, that’s right.  Foods cooked at high temperatures such as barbecued or deep fried foods cannot be utilized by our body.  And, unlike dietary fiber, processed foods and foods cooked at high temperatures do not assist in moving material through the colon but rather plug it up instead.

What Exactly Is Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber is the portion of plant foods that cannot be digested by enzymes in the human digestive tract.  Fiber is important because it absorbs cholesterol and water, providing a medium that is moist and mobile which can effectively “sweep” the inside of the bowel clean.  A diet lacking in adequate fiber will result in a toxic, constipated colon.  The consequences of a toxic, constipated colon are that the walls of the colon become encrusted with layer upon layer of fecal waste.  As time goes on, this layered fecal material becomes hard and all but impenetrable AND a perfect breeding ground for parasites.

This crusted barrier also prevents nutrients, vitamins and minerals from being absorbed into our bodies.  So, if you have a colon full of encrusted fecal material, the health benefits of your healthy diet and your healthy supplements will be minimal at best because they aren’t being absorbed by your body.  Hopefully, you are starting to see the crucial reasons why dietary fiber is so important, and keeping your digestive system running smoothly is of utmost importance.

High-fiber foods play a role in weight control as well.  Researchers point out that obesity is not seen in parts of the world where people eat large amounts of fiber-rich foods.  High-fiber foods also tend to be low in fat and simple sugars.  High-fiber foods have a bulking action, so they cause one to feel fuller faster and longer.  Some types of fiber bind with cholesterol and carry it out of the body.  Knowing this, some people “sprinkle” various types of shaker-fiber onto their meals for this purpose, but not all fiber has this effect.  For example, wheat bran (which is an insoluble fiber) has no cholesterol lowering effect, whereas oat bran and apples do lower blood cholesterol.  The fiber most effective at lowering blood cholesterol is that found in fruit, oats and legumes.

Fiber that is naturally found in whole foods is far more desirable than that found in supplement form, and much easier for the body to recognize and use.  Eating fiber, just like anything else, is good up to a point.  Too much is no better than too little, but erroring on the side of too much, is far better than too little.  People who try to increase their fiber intake too rapidly may experience intestinal discomfort and gas.  To avoid these side effects, increase your fiber by small increments every other day, and always be sure to drink no less than 8 – 10 glasses of purified water each day as well.  For adults, your ideal dietary fiber target is 25-35 grams a day.

Getting your daily target of 25-35 grams of daily fiber is really not as hard as you might think.  You can easily replace a serving of starch (potato, rice, noodles) with an extra serving of steamed broccoli or cauliflower.  Or, start making it a habit to start off each evening meal with a salad.  Being greener will keep you leaner, and your digestive system will take good care of you.

Bon Veggie Appetit!

Gina ‘The Veggie Goddess’ Matthews