Dietary fiber, also called roughage, is the structural framework of plants and one of the most abundant compounds in nature. While “fiber” is often used as a blanket term, there are actually two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in liquid and forms a gel in the body that promotes a feeling of fullness. It does not usually have a laxative effect. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in liquid and instead passes in bulk through the intestine, helping to remove accumulated waste. This results in a laxative effect. Soluble fiber is found in most fruits and bran products, whereas insoluble fiber is found in most vegetables and whole wheat products. Most plant-based foods, however, contain both types of fiber in varying amounts.
What Fiber Does for Us
Normalizes bowel movements – Fiber increases the weight, size, and softness of stools (including stools that have accumulated in the colon). This makes them easier to pass, and can help cure constipation. Moreover, this bulking effect can make watery stools more solid.
Improves colon health – Aside from sweeping the colon of accumulated waste, fiber also binds itself to cancer-causing toxins within it. This guards us from polyps, tumors, and other colorectal issues. Eating proper amounts of fiber has also been linked to hemorrhoid prevention, though evidence on this subject is currently tenuous.
Promotes weight loss – High-fiber foods tend to promote weight loss for three reasons. Firstly, fiber tends to require a lot of chewing time, which gives our bodies more time to register fullness. Secondly, fiber’s ability to absorb water in the colon also results in feelings of fullness, which discourages overeating. Thirdly, high-fiber foods tend to be healthy and low in calories and fat.
Controls blood sugar levels – Since fiber is a complex carbohydrate, our bodies cannot break down the chemical links between its glucose levels. This means fiber doesn’t raise your blood sugar levels. In fact, it has the opposite effect: Fiber actually helps us absorb sugar, thereby stabilizing our blood sugar levels and reducing our risk of type 2 diabetes. Almost all fiber-rich foods are safe for diabetic and prediabetic individuals.
Lowers cholesterol – Studies have shown that fiber can reduce our total cholesterol levels, since its ability to reduce the amount of bile that is reabsorbed in the intestines encourages the liver to make more bile salts. To do this, the body needs to use up cholesterol, so it encourages the liver to make more LDL receptors.
How Much Fiber do We Need?
According to researchers, the recommended daily intake of fiber for adults and children above the age of four is 25 grams, though sadly a lot of people fall short of this level. This is largely due to an excessive consumption of unnatural foods, which often don’t contain any fiber at all and has led to widespread constipation. Fortunately, constipation is one of the easiest conditions to cure: simply eat more fiber-rich foods!
About the Author
Michael Ravensthorpe is an independent writer whose research interests include nutrition, alternative medicine, and bushcraft. He is the creator of the website, Spiritfoods, through which he promotes the world’s healthiest foods.