Fiber is an important component of a healthy diet. We’re probably most familiar with fiber for boosting our digestive system and keeping us regular. Feel backed up? Eat some fiber. We’ve all heard it, and it does actually work for most people!
While fiber is absolutely essential for good health, most people don’t get the recommended amount per day. Fiber may help reduce constipation and provides fuel for the good bacteria in your gut. It helps keep you fuller for longer which is why it can be a great food for those looking to control weight gain.
In fact, fiber is all the rage in some weight loss communities for being the key to shedding unwanted pounds. However, have we ever really asked ourselves: what exactly is fiber, and what’s the healthiest way to consume it? Let’s start with the basics.
What is fiber?
Simply put, fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. Most carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (or sugar molecules) while fiber is not. In other words, dietary fiber is the part of plant-based foods that pass through the digestive system without breaking down.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers dissolve in water and insoluble fibers do not dissolve in water. Most plants contain both types of fiber in varying amounts. Both types contain unique benefits and both are important for a healthy diet.
As mentioned before, soluble fiber is a dietary fiber that dissolves in water. As it dissolved it creates a gel-like substance that is believed to help your body improve blood glucose levels.
Soluble fiber draws water to your gut which can help soften your stools to promote regular bowel movements. There are a plethora of health benefits when it comes to soluble fiber alone. The gel-like substance that soluble fiber creates in your body is known to:
- Reduce your body’s ability to absorb fat
- Improve blood sugar levels
- Increase healthy gut bacteria
- Improve digestion
- Promote regular bowel movement
- Support inflammatory response
Foods that are rich in soluble fiber are apples, beans, carrots, oats, peas, citrus fruits, and barley. So, if you’re looking for a way to sneak a little more soluble fiber into your diet, keep these foods in mind for the next dish you serve up!
Insoluble fiber is the opposite of soluble fiber in that it does not dissolve in water. Instead, insoluble fiber absorbs water and sticks to other materials to form stools. In other words, it makes it easier to have a bowel movement changing the consistency of your stool for the better.
Not only does it help shape your stool, but it speeds up the amount of time it takes for food to exit your body once consumed. The longer that food sits in your digestive tract, the more likely you are to experience bloating, gas, and discomfort.
Other benefits you may notice when increasing your intake of insoluble fiber include:
- Improved bowel health
- Prevent constipation
- Reduce the risk of colorectal conditions
- Support digestive health
Foods that are rich in insoluble fiber are apples, green beans, nuts, potatoes, seeds, the skin of fruits and vegetables, and whole wheat flour or whole grains.
Why consume both soluble and insoluble fiber?
It’s important to get both types of fiber in your diet for your overall gut and digestive health, but it’s nothing to get overly concerned with. If you focus your diet on whole foods, there’s a good chance you will naturally get a good mix of both fibers.
It is helpful to know the difference between both fibers and what they do for our health so that you know which foods to lean on when you want to boost your gut health in a certain way. For example, if you’ve been backed up lately, maybe it’s time to eat an apple and a handful of nuts.
Can you consume too much fiber?
The overconsumption of fiber may lead to unpleasant feelings in the gut such as gas and abdominal bloating. However, in most cases, when you experience one of these feelings, it’s due to a lack of fiber vs. too much fiber.
If you’re wanting to increase your fiber intake, it can help to do so slowly over time. That way your body can get used to the fiber and it won’t be a shock to your system. It’s also a great idea to consult your doctor before starting a high-fiber diet.