Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body does not digest. Mostly found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, dietary fiber has many health benefits. Dietary fiber is important for our digestive health and regular bowel movements. Fiber helps you feel fuller for longer, can improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and can assist in preventing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and diverticulitis. High fiber foods also contain several important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water. When mixed with water, it forms a gel-like substance and swells. On the other hand, insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. As it goes through the digestive tract, it does not change its form. Both forms of fiber have a positive impact on our health.
Insoluble fiber can promote regular bowel movements and prevent constipation. Foods containing insoluble fiber include seeds, whole grain products, dark green leafy vegetables, fruit skins, root vegetable skins, and corn bran.
Soluble fiber slows down the time it takes to empty the stomach. This type of fiber reduces the bad (LDL) cholesterol in the body, regulates sugar intake and is fermented by gut bacteria, improving immunity, digestion and overall health. Foods high in soluble fiber include kidney beans, pinto beans, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, apples, oranges, grapefruit, oatmeal, grapes, prunes and whole wheat bread.
The recommended intake of fiber is approximately 25 grams per day. Most high fiber foods contain both insoluble and soluble fibers. Therefore, focus should be on fiber intake in general, rather than on the specific type of fiber.
Some tips for increasing fiber intake:
- Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
- Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with brown rice and whole grain products.
- Snack on raw vegetables instead of chips, crackers, or chocolate bars.
- Substitute beans or legumes for meat a few times per week