Normally when we hear the word fiber, we are thinking about loose stools. Well actually, fibers are not there only to loosen our stools, but for other reasons as well.
In this article, we will be looking at the 2 types of fibers and what each one of these types gives to the body. Next, we will discuss the benefits of fiber and also the downsides, as well as the recommended daily intake. And lastly, we will list some foods that are high in fiber.
When I was a child, my dad went to do some blood tests which, when they came out, showed that he had high cholesterol levels. The doctor then prescribed oatmeal to him, which was supposed to lower these levels of cholesterol. Little did I know about the health benefits of fiber back then, or why at all oatmeal would help lower cholesterol levels.
As I did my research on the fibers, I understood a little better what fiber is for and what it does in your body. I also found that there are many health benefits of consuming fiber regularly. Through research, I also found that oatmeal is really a good source of fiber that helps lower cholesterol levels as I had seen it with my dad.
2 Types of Fiber
Fiber is divided into 2 groups types: Soluble and insoluble fiber.
1) Soluble fiber: If you take chia seeds and soak them in water, they get jelly and you cannot shake them around anymore as you can before they get jelly. By the way, chia seeds are a good source of soluble fiber. This means that fiber is absorbed by water and starts to do its job.
This process is exactly what happens in your intestines when you eat soluble fibers. They come into the intestines, get soaked with water and become jelly. That slows the digestive process down and all the nutrients that come in through the foods you eat, can be absorbed more easily and pushed into the bloodstream and sent to all the organs. Also, the intestines absorb the nutrients from the fibers. Fiber has nutrients that are invaluable to the body.
Soluble fiber softens your stools and advances the digestive process slowly but steadily. The more soluble fibers you eat, the softer your stools are. However, that does not mean that too much soluble fiber is healthy for you.
2) Insoluble fiber: As the word says it, insoluble fibers are the ones that pass intact through the body. Water cannot do anything to these fibers. They stay as they are from the moment they enter the body until they exit.
Insoluble fiber helps the digestive system to speed up. If you get too many soluble fibers, your stools will be soft, but not frequent, because the job of soluble fibers is to slow down the digestive process so everything can be used up correctly. Insoluble fibers get this process done quicker. It helps you go to the bathroom more often, which prevents constipation in the case you didn’t get enough soluble fibers.
What Does Fiber Do To Your Body? What Are The Health Benefits?
Fiber can be found in many vegetables and fruits, as well as grains since it is a plant-based nutrient. It is a carbohydrate that is not broken down in the digestive tracts, as mentioned above. When fiber enters the body, it leaves it almost intact, but does a great deal of things to the body and is beneficial for your health.
Here are 9 health benefits of fiber:
As stated above in the explanation of the 2 types of fiber, fiber is used mainly for a healthy digestion. Soft stools are easier to pass than hard or watery ones. Dietary fiber is highly beneficial to your colorectal health. It not only helps your stools but helps beneficial bacteria grow and multiply in the intestines so digestion of foods is easier and more effective. It is also known that fibers prevent problems in the colon and intestines, like hemorrhoids and diverticulitis (which is when small pouches are formed in the colon that can be very painful).
Fiber is known to be most beneficial for your digestion, even though it has other health benefits.
2) Lower Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your liver makes to break down foods you eat, therefore, cholesterol is good for you. Although your body needs cholesterol, high levels can become dangerous. The liver tends to reuse cholesterol that has already been used, therefore, if you don’t get the right foods to trap cholesterol that has been used and flush it away, cholesterol levels go higher and eventually become dangerous.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. The first one is considered the bad one, and the last one is the good one. The LDL is produced in the liver and sent into the bloodstream to the cells, where it is used for the membranes, but when its work its done it is released back into the bloodstream, where it has to be picked up by HDL, the good cholesterol, which brings it back to the liver to be processed and sent back into the bloodstream.
You can think of the LDL cholesterol as of people who like to scatter their belongings everywhere and never find what they are looking for, and HDL as the cleaning lady that goes through all the mess and brings it to a place where it can be sorted. So you want to elevate your HDL and lower your LDL. Once LDL has its job done and goes back into the bloodstream, it just randomly scatters throughout the veins, and especially near the arteries close to the heart. There these particles build up over time and cause clogged arteries and can ultimately lead to a heart attack.
Soluble fiber traps cholesterol particles in the digestive tracts and “destroys” them before they go on. The thing is that fiber does not discriminate between good and bad cholesterol. It traps all the particles that it finds, which is good because the liver can then send out good cholesterol into the bloodstream, which will catch any built up particles near the heart or in the arteries that have been clogged. This is a good reason why too much fiber is not good for you because it will leave your cholesterol levels too low.
3) Weight Loss
Fiber is known to bind with molecules of sugar and fats before they can be absorbed and transformed into calories. That means, if you get enough fiber, not all the food you eat will convert into energy, but be “destroyed” before it can affect the body. Now, don’t get me wrong: You cannot eat an excess of fibers and still overeat and wait to lose weight. As state before, too much fiber is not healthy.
Studies on people that were given the recommended daily portion of the fiber, reported a significant difference in weight loss than those that did not eat the recommended fiber.
Less than 5% of Americans get the 30 recommended grams of daily fiber. On average Americans get around 15 grams per day, which is only around half of what it should be.
Fiber also makes you fuller and stay fuller for longer. For example, if you eat a cup of oatmeal for breakfast, you can wait for lunch more easily than if you eat 2 large hotcakes. Yes, fiber-rich foods keep you fuller for longer. That is why fiber is linked to weight loss.
Read about my trick to lose weight fast.
People that consume the recommended amount of fiber daily, are also known to maintain their weight better and longer. Obese people are commonly not getting enough fibers, according to studies.
4) Healthy Gut Bacteria
When you take your fiber levels up by eating more foods that are rich in soluble fibers, healthy gut bacteria populations multiply rapidly and do their job. One of the main things it does to your guts is a reduction of inflammation in the body. You can see a change in bacteria populations in a matter of a few days.
However, as quick as healthy bacteria can reproduce with the correct intake of fibers, unhealthy bacteria multiply as soon as your fiber intake lowers.
With that being said, there is also the case where your gut health is not good because of chronic diarrhea or other symptoms of an unhealthy gut, then you would not want to consume fibers because it can make things worse. You should see your doctor if fibers are affecting you. Our body is not designed to break fibers down, they pass through almost untouched, but a healthy gut flora will benefit and feast on fibers.
5) Skin Health
Fiber properties are known to fight fungi and yeast in your body, which can break out painfully through the skin and cause acne or rashes.
6) Reduces Blood Sugar
As I said before, fiber binds with molecules of sugar and fats before they can be converted into calories, which in turn helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Fibers set off the dangerous effects of elevated blood sugar levels by getting the sugars and fats out of your body before they can do harm to your body.
7) Reduce Risk Of Gall- and Kidney Stones
Because fibers are able to trap fat and sugar molecules, glucose cannot build up over time because of a high intake of sugars and fats. Glucose is to some degree responsible for stones in gall and in the kidneys.
Researchers have found in extensive studies made over decades that people with high intake of fibers, at least 25 grams per day reaped the greatest benefits in terms of reducing the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease, respiratory and infectious diseases.
Men and women over the ages have been studied and found that those who had a higher intake of fibers tended to live longer. The results of these studies are only related to fiber and exclude people that are overweight, that smoke or have other types of diseases not related to the ones mentioned above.
9) Prevents Cancer
Studies have found that for every 10 grams of fiber consumed per day, the risk for colorectal cancer is reduced by 10%. Putting that into perspective: If you can get to 30 grams of fiber daily, your risk is reduced by 30%, which is a relatively high number. Also, for every 10 grams of fiber, breast cancer is reduced by 5%, which when put into perspective would be a 15% risk reduction for 30 grams a day.
And the good thing is that most fibers come from vegetables and fruits, which are rich in antioxidants which would further drop the risk of above-mentioned cancers. Read here why you should eat fruits and vegetables.
How Much Fiber Should You Get Daily?
The recommended daily intake of fiber varies between age and gender. 30 grams is the rough recommendation for everybody. However, there are more exact numbers for future reference:
a) Adults over 50
- Men – 21 grams
- Women – 30 grams
b) Adults under 50
- Men – 28 grams
- Women – 25 grams
c) Children and adolescents
- 1 to 3 years – 19 grams
- 4 to 8 years – 25 grams
- 9 to 13 years – 31 grams (boys); 26 grams (girls)
- 14 to 18 years – 38 grams (male); 26 grams (female)
While most of the population does not get to these numbers, there is a too-much-fiber warning. If you get too much fiber, it can result in diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, weight gain, bloating, intestinal blockage, abdominal pain, and reduced blood sugar levels (which is dangerous for people with diabetes).
It is not that easy to get too many fibers because most of us don’t consume that many fiber dense foods, but this should serve as a warning for people who like to overdo things. Also, if you are taking fiber supplements, be aware of the numbers that you are consuming.
Which Are Fiber Rich Foods?
Coming to the end with this informative article, there is one thing left to look at. Which are fiber dense and fiber-rich foods? There is a long list of foods, but I will only outline a few.
- Oatmeal – 4 grams per cup, cooked
- Barley – 6 grams per cup, cooked
- Whole wheat pasta – 6.3 grams per cup, cooked
- Avocado – 13.4 grams per piece
- Blackberries – 7.6 grams per cup
- Raspberries – 8 grams per cup
- Broccoli – 5.1 grams per cup, boiled
- Black beans – 15 grams per cup, cooked
- Lentils – 15.6 grams per cup, cooked
The list would go on and on.
Check out my list of vegetables and fruits rich in fiber.
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Have a fibrous day,