A Simple Guide To Understanding Your Fiber Needs

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Bran Muffin

Fiber is a very mysterious component of our diet.  Generally, people seem to know that it’s good for them, good for their heart, will help keep them regular, and they should eat “more” of it.  Maybe the delicate nature of the topics relating to fiber have caused advertisers to confuse the public even more than usual.  Do you remember the SNL skit with Phil Hartman about Colon Blow cereal?

Rather than a wordy article reviewing the studies behind fiber, I decided to write this in a way that I hope you can actually use.

 

How much fiber: 25-40 grams per day

 

Types of fiber:  Soluble and Insoluble (we need both)

 

Soluble fiber:  Dissolves in water and forms a gel.

  • Binds to cholesterol – Bile acids are used in digestion and also as a way to remove cholesterol from our bodies.  Soluble fiber binds to the cholesterol and carries it out of the body.  In absence of soluble fiber, much of the cholesterol can be reabsorbed back into the body.

  • Makes you feel full – Soluble fiber absorbs a lot of water while forming a gel, if you’ve ever made oatmeal, then you know what I mean.  The sensation of feeling full is one way that SF can help with weight management.

  • Sugar management – In addition to feeling full, the gel also slows the emptying of the stomach.  When the same amount of sugar is absorbed over a longer period of time, our bodies can manage the sugar much better… no sugar spike.  This is the other way SF can help with weight management.

  • Constipation and diarrhea – Both? Come on!  It’s the water absorbing gel characteristic doing double duty here.  The absorption of excess water can help with diarrhea and you can imagine how a viscous gel might help get things moving again… ok, maybe you don’t want to imagine that.

  • Probiotic food – the healthy bacteria in our guts just can’t get enough of this stuff.

  • Removes toxins – it binds to other unwanted materials that might otherwise be reabsorbed back into the body.

 

Insoluble fiber:  The roughage most of us think of as fiber.  Does not dissolve in water and passes mostly intact.

  • Helps keep you regular – adds the bulk needed to keep things moving.  While soluble fiber slows digestion, insoluble fiber speeds things up… putting it all into balance.

  • Helps reduce the risk of diverticular disease.

 

Total fiber intake:  the combo have been shown in studies to possibly help lower the risk of

  • Coronary disease

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Obesity

  • Certain GI cancers

 

Sources: Many foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.  For example, you will find psyllium in the soluble fiber column on most lists, but it also contains 20-30% insoluble fiber.  Don’t get too hung-up on getting X amount of one and Y of the other.  Just make sure you are getting a good mix of both each day from a variety of sources.

 

Soluble fiber sources: apples, avocados, bananas, beans, blueberries, carrots, celery, cucumbers, flaxseeds, lentils, oat bran, oat cereal, oatmeal, oranges, nuts, pears, peas, potatoes (skins), psyllium (told you), squash, strawberries

 

Insoluble fiber sources: barley, broccoli, brown rice, bulgur, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, corn bran, couscous, cucumbers, dark leafy vegetables, grapes, green beans, fruit skins, nuts, onions, raisins, root vegetable skins, seeds, tomatoes, wheat bran, whole grains, whole wheat, zucchini

 

muffin photo by Steve A Johnson (flickr creative commons)

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Co-Founder of NutritionGeeks, retired USAPL drug-free powerlifter, volunteer youth wrestling coach, father of 3 amazing boys and interested in all things health

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