One of the most overlooked nutrients that you should have in a healthy diet is dietary fiber. Typically our focus is on fat and carbohydrates and the ongoing war between the low-fat advocates and the low-carb advocates. Poor old protein doesn’t really get a look in either, but then we all know we need that to stay healthy and unless you are a vegetarian then it is easy to get protein from any meat you eat. Yet fiber, which not only gives you a wide range of health benefits but also helps you to feel full quicker so you eat less at mealtimes, is rarely mentioned.
Dietary fiber is basically a mix of non-digestible carbohydrates and other plant components like waxes and pectin that are not broken down in your stomach. When it is in your stomach then it helps you to feel full up so you don’t eat as much other food, but when it moves to your colon then the two different kinds of fiber come into play, let’s have a look at each of them in more detail below:
Soluble: Soluble fiber actually breaks down in the colon and ferments. When it ferments it releases short-chain fatty acids that have a myriad of health benefits like stabilizing blood sugar levels, reducing LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, stimulating production of your immune cells, increasing acidity in your colon to increase the absorption of minerals, protecting the mucosal layer of the colon and much more. This fiber also traps carbohydrates when it absorbs water and turns into a gel, slowing their absorption into the blood stream, and helps prevent bile acids entering the blood stream thus reducing cholesterol levels.
Insoluble: This is the part that stays intact, and is what most people think of when they talk about fiber because it is the part that bulks up your stools and because it absorbs water then it softens them too. Both of those actions help you to stay regular and avoid constipation.
You can clearly see that dietary fiber gives you a wide range of benefits and should be a part of every meal. The recommended daily intake is about 20 – 35g of fiber per day, yet according to Wikipedia then on average most North Americans eat less than half that, with some people only eating 20% of that recommended amount.
To get more fiber into your diet then start buying the whole wheat versions of pasta and bread (which you should be doing anyway as it releases its energy more slowly) which have a lot more fiber in them. Also aim to eat more nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables and fruit, and where you can then keep the skins on things when you eat them (like potatoes).