The Importance of Fiber

We all have heard about it, from our moms, from our doctors, from our friends: eat food that is rich in fiber as fiber is important! Everybody seems to know about fiber, but when specifically asked what fiber does in your body, the initial response would be…it’s good for the body. Let’s improve that, shall we?

What Exactly Is Dietary Fiber?

Dietary fiber is a type of indigestible carbohydrate derived from the food you eat. It’s basically a part of most plant foods that your digestive system can’t digest. Traditionally, two types of dietary fibers known as insoluble and soluble fiber were discovered. But more recently, a third type was named prebiotic. All three of these types have their health benefits. So, why do we have to eat it? We’ll tell you why.

1. Soluble fiber means that the fiber dissolves in water. The fiber and water combine to form a gel in your intestines that slows down your digestion, making you feel full long after eating a meal. This type of fiber can help people with diabetes mellitus to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Some types of soluble fiber such as pectin, beta glucan, guar gum and psyllium also help to lower your LDL cholesterol levels.

Food Rich In Soluble Fiber:

Legumes: dried lentils, mung beans, beans, peas
Fruits: especially berries, citrus, pears, kiwi and apples (pectin)
Vegetables: particularly sprouts, broccoli, sweet potato, carrots
Others: oats, guar gum, psyllium

2.Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It adds bulk to your stools and makes your toilet habits regular and uneventful (no straining, no constipation). It gives you a smooth experience when you’re on the house throne (toilet).

Food Rich In Insoluble Fiber:

Grains: mixed grain like quinoa and oat, brown rice, corn, choose Organic or Non-GMO to avoid pesticide contaminations
Legumes: mung beans, black soybeans, chickpeas, kidney beans
Outer skins of vegetables and fruits: choose Organic to avoid pesticides
Nuts and seeds

3. A third relatively new type of fiber that was discovered more recently is called a prebiotic. Prebiotics are a special type of soluble fiber. In the simplest sense, prebiotics act as food for the beneficial bacteria residing in your large intestine. There are some requirements to be classified as a prebiotic, click here to learn what these are. Even though a prebiotic sounds very similar to a probiotic, they aren’t the same thing. Also, it’s vital to know that all prebiotics are fibers, BUT not all fibers are prebiotics. Your body needs a constant supply of prebiotics, here’s why:

Your Colon, The Fermentation Factory

Approximately 1,000 different species of bacteria live in your colon. The relative composition of the different species of bacteria differs for each person. Your colon is a like a factory, and the different species of bacteria behave as factory workers. Raw materials arrive in the form of a prebiotic and get fermented by your good bacteria. Fermentation is a metabolic process that utilizes sugar to produce alcohol, gases, or organic acids without the use of oxygen (anaerobic). These products are then used by the beneficial bacteria to produce energy, increase their numbers, and diversify.

The two prebiotic fibers with the most research behind them are oligo fructose and inulin. There are several others of course, so to learn more about prebiotics and common prebiotic-rich foods click here. The best studied among the beneficial bacteria are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. These beneficial bacteria use inulin and oligo fructose to give them energy and multiply. They also help them repopulate the fermentation factory (your colon). What do we get from these so-called beneficial bacteria?

Together with the immune cells found in your large intestines, the beneficial bacteria form a protective barrier throughout your colon to prevent harmful bacteria from gaining access to your body. Neat, huh? As if that wasn’t enough, beneficial bacteria also produce vitamin K2 (menaquinone). Vitamin K2 a source of vitamin K which is needed by your liver to produce blood-clotting proteins to help stop bleeding such as wounds. Another byproduct of beneficial bacteria is biotin (Vitamin B7), a water-soluble vitamin which our bodies can’t synthesize. It’s responsible for the optimal growth of your hair, skin, and nails.

Remember the above from your Biochemistry classes? Those are my favorite! Here are some more cool by-products of fermentation:

  • SCFA stands for short chain fatty acids. SCFAs increase blood flow to your large intestine promoting optimal nutrient absorption.
  • Propionate increases muscular contractions around your large intestine to propel food towards the end of your colon more effectively.
  • Butyrate normalizes the appearance of the cells lining the surface of your colon and at the same time provides food for them.

All three of the above by-products acidify the pH in your colon making it difficult for harmful bacteria to live in, but a safe haven and workplace (factory) for beneficial bacteria.

The average daily dietary fiber requirement is between 25g to 30g. Eating plenty of fiber reduces your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, hemorrhoids and constipation. But it’s sad to announce that more than 90% of Americans don’t consume enough vegetables and fruits (CDC studies published in 2015).

In summary, all three of these important groups of fiber have their unique health benefits. Try to include some of each kind of fiber in your diet regularly to keep your good gut bacteria healthy, keep the bad ones at bay and promote a healthy digestive system. If you’re not used to eating fiber, start with a small amount and gradually increase your servings. Eating too much too soon can lead to a bloated feeling, flatulence, and even cramps. This is particularly the case if you’re taking a fiber supplement rather than just increasing fiber-rich whole foods. An option can be to try Karuna Whole Plant Wellness drinks that are rich in fibers especially prebiotics and antioxidants. Plus, don’t forget to drink more water.

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