There are so many reasons why dietary fiber is good for you. Whether you’re dealing with an unhappy gut or are simply looking for a digestive boost, for many people dietary fiber can do just the trick.
What we eat plays such a huge role in so many aspects of our health and wellness. And, you might already have been told time and time again to “eat more fiber.” And for good reason! Dietary fiber is a vital part of a well-balanced and healthy diet.
However, some people might struggle to consume enough dietary fiber on a regular basis. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many Americans don’t consume enough dietary fiber. This can poorly impact their digestive, and general, health.
If you’ve been wondering why dietary fiber is good for you, look no further! We’re going to break it down for you to help you get a better understanding of this gut-supporting powerhouse and why you should include it in your diet.
First things first, what is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber is essentially the indigestible component found in plant foods. It is also known as ‘roughage’ and is, in fact, a type of carbohydrate. You can find fiber only in certain foods. Some good sources of fiber include foods like certain fruit and vegetables, whole grains, cereal fiber, oat bran, beans, nuts and seeds, and legumes.
Now, if you’ve seen the word carbohydrate you might immediately be thinking of wonderbread. That’s a common misconception, and carbohydrates are often demonized in our society. The fact is carbs are an essential source of energy for our bodies. But there’s a difference between simple and complex carbohydrates.
White bread, pasta, and sugar are all simple carbohydrates. Unlike these, dietary fiber is a complex carbohydrate which means that it doesn’t spike blood sugar levels.
What happens when you don’t get enough dietary fiber?
According to some studies, following a low-fiber diet can have a negative impact on your health and increase the risk of certain concerns. This medical research particularly emphasizes the importance of a diet high in fiber on digestive and colon health. When you’re lacking in this important part of your diet, it may even be counterproductive to weight loss efforts or lead to concerns like bloating and constipation.
Therefore, it’s important to make sure that you are getting enough fiber each day. You can do so either by following high fiber diets which include plenty of foods that contain fiber. Your body will thank you!
So is dietary fiber really necessary?
Dietary fiber is considered an essential nutrient by many health experts, including the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, and the USDA. This means that it should be included as part of a well-balanced diet.
A high-fiber diet has been associated with many health advantages, including supporting digestive and heart health, as well as promoting regular bowel movements.
By now you may have realized that this important nutrient should definitely be incorporated into your daily routine. But did you also know that there are actually two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble?
Types of fiber
Fiber can be split into two main types. These two types mainly depend on their water solubility. This basically refers to how easily a substance dissolves in water.
The two types of fiber can be divided into the following:
- Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the gut. Soluble fiber can be metabolized, or broken down, by so-called “good” bacteria that live in our microbiome.
- Insoluble fiber: This form of fiber does not dissolve in water. It actually remains mostly intact in the digestive system, which is why it’s known for “bulking up” stool. Because of this it’s thought to help ease constipation (but more on that below).
Most high-fiber foods contain both types of fiber. They are both equally important when it comes to having balanced gut health. Instead of focusing on getting enough of each type, it makes more sense to keep track of your overall fiber intake.
Now let’s have a closer look at these two types of dietary fiber and the health advantages linked to each one.
Potential Health Benefits of Fiber
As we mentioned, this kind of fiber is the kind that dissolves in water. It first forms a gel-like substance in the gut which is later broken down by bacteria in the large intestine.
There’s a whole lot of good stuff associated with this type of fiber. It may be beneficial for:
Soluble fiber plays a role in how dietary fat and cholesterol are absorbed by the body. According to studies, this means that it can have a positive impact on LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
Weight Loss or Weight Management Efforts
Because it forms a substance that resembles a gel, soluble fiber can help with healthy weight management. This gel “sits” in the gut which, according to some studies, may slow down the absorption of nutrients, promote the feeling of fullness, and reduce appetite.
Blood Sugar Levels
The slower absorption of nutrients like carbohydrates also has other benefits. Studies suggest that soluble fiber can help prevent blood sugar levels from spiking after consuming a meal high in carbs. This can help keep blood sugar levels more stable.
All of these benefits can, in turn, help to encourage better heart health. In fact, fiber has been the subject of different types of research on heart disease as well. However, the research is still ongoing. More studies would need to be conducted to better determine the full effects of fiber on heart health.
Some types of soluble fiber may also help to feed the “good” bacteria in the gut, functioning as a kind of prebiotic. This can boost the “beneficial” bacteria in the gut and promote gut health!
That’s why, for example, a lot of this type of fiber is also called fermentable fiber. The “good” gut bacteria in our microbiota are able to break down fermentable fiber. When they break down this fiber, these bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids, or SCFAs, can positively impact your overall wellness, according to some studies.
Butyrate, for example, is one type of short-chain fatty acid that is produced through this process. Studies suggest that butyrate, in particular, may help to promote a more balanced gut.
Soluble fiber is naturally found in fruits and vegetables such as apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and peas. Oats, barley, and psyllium are also good sources of this type of fiber.
As we mentioned earlier, this type of fiber is the kind that does not dissolve in water. That means that it passes through your digestive system without being broken down to a great extent.
Promotes Bowel and Digestive Health
Insoluble fiber is mostly known for encouraging better digestive and bowel health. Some studies have suggested that insoluble fiber may be helpful in easing constipation. It does this by absorbing and attracting water to stool, making them softer and therefore easier to pass. This can help to promote more regular bowel movements.
May Impact Mood
By boosting regularity, consuming enough insoluble fiber helps to boost not only your physical wellness but also can impact your mood. Ever experienced any kind of tummy trouble? You probably know that it can make you seriously cranky!
High-fiber veggies like cauliflower and green beans as well as nuts, whole-grain foods, whole wheat flour, and wheat bran all contain insoluble fiber.
What is the recommended daily fiber intake?
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily intake of dietary fiber is about 38 grams of fiber for men. For women, they suggest 25 grams of fiber per day. The suggested intake includes both types of fiber.
You should note, however, that the recommended intake may fluctuate depending on various factors. For example, people may need more or less than the recommended amount depending on their age or state of health.
It’s still important to try to meet these recommendations. Unfortunately, according to the NIH, many people miss the mark. They state that the average American only consumes about 14 grams of fiber per day.
Can you eat too much fiber?
Generally consuming too little dietary fiber is a much more common problem than consuming too much. However, that being said, it is still possible to go overboard and eat too much fiber.
Some experts suggest keeping your fiber intake below 70 grams per day to avoid unpleasant side effects. These side effects may include digestive discomfort, bloating, and excess gas.
You can avoid some of these side effects by not overdoing it on your fiber intake.
Another way to help reduce these symptoms is to address other aspects of your diet. For example, by reducing your consumption of sugar and artificial sweeteners you may be able to lessen the amount of bloating you experience. This is because they can also cause bloating.
You might also want to look at how you eat your veggies. For instance, another tip is to eat your vegetables cooked rather than raw.
One other suggested way to reduce the feeling of bloating is to make sure that you get plenty of exercise. This is generally good advice to maintain your overall physical (and mental) health and wellbeing.
Who should use a fiber supplement?
Fiber supplements are a fantastic way to boost your daily intake of dietary fiber. They’re especially useful for people who find it hard to consume enough fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
There are many reasons why some people are unable to meet their daily fiber needs.
Some people may lead busy lifestyles which can make it harder to maintain a diet rich in these foods.
Other people might have allergies or food sensitivities which means they have to entirely avoid eating certain food groups. These foods may also be ones that happen to be high in fiber. For example, people with nut or wheat allergies or sensitivities cannot eat fiber-rich foods such as almonds and whole grains. People who belong to these groups, for example, may benefit from a fiber supplement that does not contain allergens.
Is there anything else I need to know about taking a fiber supplement?
It’s good to make sure that you consume enough fluids for your overall wellness. But especially if you’re increasing your dietary fiber intake. Drinking plenty of water or other fluids is particularly helpful whether you’re boosting your fiber consumption through your diet or natural supplements.
Convenience is king
When picking a fiber supplement, there are a whole host of different options available. These days they come in all shapes and forms, from powders to capsules to gummies! That’s why it’s not a bad idea to choose the type that is easiest for you to consume. This makes it more likely that you’ll actually remember to take it on a regular basis.
Always choose quality
As always with natural supplements, it’s important to choose products that contain only the best, high-quality ingredients. It’s also a good idea to look for products that have been third-party lab-tested. This helps to ensure that they’re made with safe and effective ingredients.
Combine with a healthy lifestyle
If you’re planning on trying a fiber supplement, you’ll generally get the most benefits when you combine them with healthy lifestyle habits. These include getting plenty of rest, exercise, as well as sticking to a well-balanced diet.
It’s also a good idea to consult with a doctor for medical advice before beginning any natural supplements, particularly if you have specific health concerns.
The bottom line: why is dietary fiber important?
Both soluble and insoluble fibers are super essential for a healthy diet and lifestyle. They help support many facets of our health, including cardiovascular and digestive health.
Many Americans don’t get enough fiber in their daily diet.
One way to increase your fiber intake is to adopt a high-fiber diet. You can do this by slowly eating more fiber-rich foods that are naturally high in fiber to gain both short- and long-term benefits.
Some people who are unable to eat these types of high-fiber foods might also benefit from taking a fiber supplement.
Fiber supplements can also be handy for people who lead busy lives and may not have time to focus on nutrition.
In general, it’s a good idea to start out with small steps and slowly increase your dietary fiber intake. Remember to combine with healthy lifestyle choices such as drinking plenty of water, getting lots of rest and exercising on a regular basis!