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Is Dietary Fiber Healthy? Digestion Benefits And Downsides

Dietary fiber is a very important part of a healthy diet. The recommended daily allowance for fiber, according to the Institute of Medicine, is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. 1

What Are Examples Of Dietary Fiber?

Dietary fiber is a plant-based carbohydrate found in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Examples of foods containing dietary fiber include broccoli, green beans, spinach, strawberries, flax seeds, almonds, brussels sprouts, avocado, and oranges.

Which Dietary Fiber Is Best?

The best type of dietary fiber comes in high-fiber non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens, and low-sugar fruits. These foods slow glucose absorption and increase satiety (feeling of fullness), which can help prevent overeating and indirectly aid weight management.

Some high-fiber foods include: 2

  1. Navy beans (9.6 grams of fiber per ½ cup cooked)
  2. Chia seeds (8.3 grams per 2 tablespoons)
  3. Raspberries (8 grams per 1 cup)
  4. Collard greens (7.6 grams per 1 cup cooked and chopped)
  5. Flax Seeds (5.6 grams per 2 tablespoons)
  6. Broccoli (5.1 grams per 1 cup cooked and chopped)
  7. Almonds (3.8 grams per ¼ cup roasted)
  8. Cocoa powder ( 4 grams per 2 tablespoons unsweetened)

What Is A High Fiber Diet?

A high fiber diet is one that includes the recommended daily amount of 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams for men. 3 This is quite an increase in fiber from the estimated 16 grams that the typical American consumes each day. 4

If you are accustomed to eating just 16-17  grams of fiber per day and want to increase your fiber intake, do so slowly and gradually. Adding a large amount of fiber to your diet overnight can cause painful, unpleasant, and even embarrassing gas, bloating, stomach pains and other symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.

What Are The 2 Types Of Fiber?

There are two types of fiber -- soluble and insoluble -- and both are necessary for health. Most fibrous foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber but tend to be richer in one of these types than the other.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel that slows down digestion. This delays glucose absorption and stops cholesterol from being absorbed through the intestines and into the bloodstream. Thus, soluble fiber may help regulate blood glucose and support healthy cholesterol levels.

Insoluble fiber is not digested and passes through the gastrointestinal system relatively intact. It increases bulk in the stool and passes through the system more quickly than soluble fiber, removing toxic waste through the colon as it goes. Insoluble fiber is essential for regular and productive bowel movements.

There are also soluble and insoluble fermentable fibers that the good bacteria in your lower colon ingest, producing POSTBiotic metabolites that may be responsible for many of the health benefits attributed to fiber and probiotics. Keep this in mind as we discuss some of the health benefits of eating fiber. 5

What Are The Health Benefits Of Eating Fiber?

Research studies suggest that there are many health benefits of eating fiber, including:

  1. Weight control. Dietary fiber has been shown to increase after-meal satiety and decrease hunger. Also, an increase in dietary fiber is associated with a 10% decrease in calorie intake.  (This is because the calories from fiber are not absorbed but leave the body as excrement.) 6
  2. Improved bowel health. As previously mentioned, fiber helps remove toxins from the digestive system via the bowels. (A low fiber diet is associated with inflammatory bowel disease.) 7
  3. Reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer. 8
  4. Improved immune function. Good intestinal bacteria is largely responsible for the health of our immune system, and a high-fiber diet appears to support the growth and maintenance of these bacteria. 9

Is Eating A Lot Of Fiber Bad For You?

Fibrous foods contain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that the body needs for health. However, eating a lot of fiber can lead to a host of unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, such as gas, bloating, and stomach cramps.

So...how can you experience all the health benefits of a high-fiber diet without all those negative digestive symptoms?

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References

1- Zelman K. Fiber: How Much Do You Need? Nourish by WebMD. Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on Apr 07, 2016. Accessed Feb 18, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/fiber-how-much-do-you-need#1

2- Tarantino O. 43 Best High-Fiber Foods For a Healthy Diet. Eat This, Not That! Oct 5, 2017. Accessed Feb 18, 2021. https://www.eatthis.com/high-fiber-foods/

3- Zelman K. Fiber: How Much Do You Need? Nourish by WebMD. Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on Apr 07, 2016. Accessed Feb 18, 2021. www.webmd.com/diet/guide/fi...

4- King DE, Mainous AG 3rd, Lambourne CA. Trends in dietary fiber intake in the United States, 1999-2008. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 May;112(5):642-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.01.019. Epub 2012 Apr 25. PMID: 22709768.

5- Makki K, Deehan EC, Walter J, Bäckhed F. The Impact of Dietary Fiber on Gut Microbiota in Host Health and Disease. Cell Host Microbe. 2018 Jun 13;23(6):705-715. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2018.05.012. PMID: 29902436.

6-  Howarth NC, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr Rev. 2001 May;59(5):129-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2001.tb07001.x. PMID: 11396693.

7- Day AS, Davis R, Costello SP, Yao CK, Andrews JM, Bryant RV. The Adequacy of Habitual Dietary Fiber Intake in Individuals With Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Systematic Review,
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2021, ISSN 2212-2672, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2020.12.001.

8- The Lancet. (2019, January 10). High intake of dietary fiber and whole grains associated with reduced risk of non-communicable diseases. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 18, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190110184737.htm

9- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Nutrition and Immunity. Accessed Feb 18, 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nutrition-and-immunity/



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