Fiber is an important element of a healthy diet. They are the structural part of plants and are found in all plant foods including vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes. Foods such as meat, fish and dairy products do not contain any fiber. Eating the required amount of fiber could prevent from various health problems like heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and digestive problems.
Most dietary fibers are polysaccharides, as are starches. They are not digested by the human body. Starch is a long chain of glucose molecules linked together with alpha bonds. Fiber is a long chain of glucose molecules linked together with beta bonds. The human body does not have the enzymes to break beta bonds therefore fiber is not digested and absorbed and does not provide calories.
The undigested fiber passes into the lower intestine where intestinal bacteria can ferment (breakdown) some fibers. Dietary fiber can bind some minerals and decrease their absorption. Fiber intake is like all nutrients in excess is not always better.
The importance of consuming a diet that provides a variety of nutrients is the key. Fiber aids in proper digestion. It also helps our body absorb beneficial minerals within our food and helps fight free radicals, supports healthy intestinal bacteria and maintains healthy cholesterol levels already within normal limits.
Types of Fibers: There are many different types of fiber, in general fibers are mainly divided into two types based on their physical properties. Soluble fibers and Insoluble fibers
Soluble Fibers: Soluble fibers dissolve in water, form gels and are easily digested by bacteria in the lower intestine. It is found in legumes and fruits. It provides a feeling of fullness. Slows down the rate food leaves the stomach. May have a role with heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer
Insoluble Fibers: Insoluble fibers absorb water and swell up resulting in a larger softer stool that is easier and quicker to pass. Found in grains and vegetables. Provides a feeling of fullness Helps with intestinal function May help with colon cancer
Health Benefits of Fiber: Both fiber types are important for health. Fibers are beneficial for many conditions; constipation, diarrhea, heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer. Fiber is only one factor involved in these conditions. High fiber foods have many factors that may aid in lowering disease risk. The factors include: High fiber Low in fat High vitamins (antioxidants) High in minerals High in phytochemicals
Intestinal Function Insoluble fibers provide many health benefits in the digestive tract. Insoluble fibers absorb water resulting in a larger, softer stool that is faster and easier to eliminate, which can help with constipation and hemorrhoids.
Heart Disease Soluble fibers may have a role in lowering blood cholesterol. As mentioned, soluble fibers can bind to bile acids and increase their excretion. With fewer bile acids in the intestine, less fat is absorbed. Also by increasing bile acid excretion, the liver must use its cholesterol to make new bile acids.
Diabetes Soluble fibers may have a positive effect on blood glucose. They decrease the rate at which food is released from the stomach and delays glucose absorption into the blood. This may help prevent wide swings in blood glucose.
Weight Management Foods rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber tend to be low in fat and added sugars which can help with weight management by providing fewer calories. In addition, as fibers absorb water they swell up creating a feeling of fullness and delaying hunger.
Food Sources of Fiber: Foods are the best means to increase fiber intake. Food sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, legumes, nuts and seeds. Remember that cooking, processing, and removing peels can lower the fiber in foods. Oatmeal, oat cereal, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, flax seeds, beans, dried peas, blueberries, cucumbers, celery, and carrots all contain high amounts of soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber are available in whole wheat, whole grains, wheat bran, corn bran, seeds, nuts, barley, couscous, brown rice, bulgur, zucchini, celery, broccoli, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, raisins, grapes, fruit, and root vegetable skins.
Tips for Increasing Fiber Intake: It is important to increase fiber in the diet slowly. Increasing fiber too fast may cause bloating and gas. Since some fiber absorbs water it also is important to drink plenty of fluids when increasing dietary fiber. Fiber does play an important role in maintaining our overall health but eating too much at once may cause adverse effects. Incorporating high fiber foods will naturally bring in lots of benefits to the body.
But slowly increase the fiber intake as sudden increase may cause flatulence, give you a bloating feeling and cause stomach cramps. It is also very important to drink plenty of fluids when you are on a high fiber diet. Finally we need to understand that fiber too is a very great and essential element for human body.
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