Many people have heard that fiber is an important part of a well-balanced diet, but what does fiber do exactly?
What is Fiber?
Fiber is an integral part of plants. There are two types of fiber: insoluble fiber and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is also called roughage. It is part of fruit and vegetable skins and the bran layer of whole wheat. It is an important part of the plant’s structure. Types of insoluble fibers include cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.
Soluble fibers form a gel in water. Citrus fruit, barley, oatmeal, peas and beans are examples of soluble fiber-rich foods. Soluble fibers include pectins, gums and mucilages.
What Does Fiber Do?
Fiber is essential for proper intestinal function. Within the colon, it absorbs water, which consequently softens and increases the bulk of the stool. This simple action has a host of benefits including relieving constipation and preventing colon disease as well as hemorrhoids.
Water-soluble fiber helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels as well as help manage Diabetes. Insoluble fiber acts as a laxative whereas soluble fiber slows the transition of food through the intestines. Fiber is not digested, meaning that it does not get absorbed and does not add calories to a diet. Thus, it helps in weight loss. It does add bulk to the diet, causing the sensation of being full and leading to less food consumption.
Types of Food High in Fiber
Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber generally speaking. Prunes, raisins, apples, dates, pears and blackberries are especially high. Next come blueberries, oranges, apples and raspberries. Apricots, strawberries, peaches, cherries, mangos, applesauce, tangerines, nectarines, pears and bananas and other fruits are low in fiber.
When considering vegetables, generally speaking there is more fiber in raw or fresh vegetables when compared to cooked vegetables. High fiber vegetables include Brussels sprouts, kidney beans, pork and beans, lima beans, potato with skin and pumpkin. Vegetables with a medium amount of fiber include mushrooms, carrots, turnip greens, rhubarb, spinach, broccoli, and green peas.
Other foods that are high in fiber include grains like oat and wheat bran, brown rice, buckwheat, peanut flour, rye flour, soybean flour, and whole wheat flour.
It is recommended that people eat at least 5 servings of fresh or cooked vegetable and fruits as well as at least two servings of whole grain products. You should consume roughly 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily. Increasing the intake of fiber quickly can cause some health problems, including stomach aches, bloating, gas and diarrhea.
It is best to increase the amount over several weeks and remember to drink plenty of water. Water is important in proper intestinal function. You should drink 8 to 10 glasses a day. Without drinking plenty of water, fiber becomes constipating.
Increasing the amount of fiber in the diet is recommended to relieve constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease, Diverculosis, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, colon cancer and other types of cancer.
So, the simple answer to the question “what does fiber do?” is a lot.