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Fiber For Digestive Health: Why It’s Important and Best Foods To Take

Foods rich in fiber offer numerous benefits, including a healthy gut, improved digestion, and prevention of constipation. Learn how to optimize your fiber intake for improved digestive health and overall well-being with this article.

Fiber for digestive health 2

Dietary fiber, also known as bulk or roughage, is a group of edible food components that are found in cereals, fruits, and vegetables, and which are harder to break down by digestive enzymes. Although grains, fruits, and vegetables comprise 3/4 of the foods required to be consumed based on the My Plate diagram, dietary fiber intake today continues to be statistically low at 15 grams per day compared to previous generations. This is largely due in part to the popularity of a westernized diet consisting of processed foods, animal proteins, refined sugars, and saturated fats.

Types of Dietary Fiber

There are two types of dietary fiber.

Soluble fiber can be dissolved in water, transforming into a viscous gel-like substance. This fiber type increases stool bulk and softens stool for easy passage through the small intestines, colon, and rectum. Soluble fiber helps in lowering blood cholesterol, slows down the absorption of carbohydrates from foods, and aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels. Excellent sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal and oat bran, nuts and seeds, legumes, apples, peas, plums, prunes, berries, and sweet potatoes.

Healthy breakfast ideas include ats, berries, apples

Insoluble fiber cannot be dissolved in water and remains relatively unchanged during digestion. They act by attracting water to the intestines thus further increasing bulk and stool softness. Insoluble fiber promotes normal movement of intestinal contents. Good sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, potato skins, green beans, carrots, squash, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, nuts and seeds. 

The Importance of Fiber for Digestive Health

The first and foremost importance of fiber for digestive health is that it promotes regularity of bowel movement and thus prevents constipation. It affects the rate by which food is digested, nutrient absorption, and the movement of waste materials (stool) through the intestines.

In addition, fiber serves as a substrate or fuel for beneficial intestinal bacteria or your gut microbiome, supporting the harvesting of energy from food, the process of digestion, and immune defense.

Here are other benefits of dietary fiber:

  • Fiber reduces the prevalence rate by 29% for cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, and peripheral vascular disease.
  • Fiber also reduces major risk factors for disease, including obesity, dyslipidemia, and hypercholesterolemia.
  • Fiber reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. The higher the intake of insoluble fiber, in particular, the lower the risk for diabetes.
  • Fiber decreases the risk for hiatal hernias, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, gallbladder disease, appendicitis, hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, and colorectal cancer.
  • Fiber—inulin in particular—acts as a prebiotic. It stimulates the growth of good bacteria (Bifidobacteria) while restricting the growth of pathogenic bacteria. This effect is beneficial in cases of ulcerative colitis and colorectal cancer.
  • High fiber intake accords a protective relationship against colorectal cancer incidence. An increase in Bifidobacteria reduces intestinal pH and directly impacts carcinogenesis in the large intestines.
  • Inulin stimulates the growth of Bifidobaceteria, which in turn stimulates the immune system.
  • Fiber improves the metabolic absorption or bioavailability of certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and iron in the large intestine.

Best Foods To Take

The recommended daily fiber intake is 20 grams for women and 26 grams for men 19-50 years old. For women over the age of 50, the recommended intake is decreased to 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men.

If you are considering adding more fiber to your diet, you must do so gradually so that you do not overwhelm your system and cause indigestion. This also helps you get accustomed to the added bulk and also to prevent abdominal pain and bloating. 

Vegetables, nuts and legumes are a great source of fiber that can be included in your daily diet.

Let us take a look at some of the best high fiber foods to take:

1) Lentils or BeansLentils or beans have the richest fiber content. 1 cup of cooked or canned lentils or beans will give you between 6 and 20 grams of dietary fiber.
2) Boiled Split PeasA single cup of boiled split peas contains 16 grams of fiber
3) Boiled Black BeansA cup of boiled black beans will give you 15 grams of fiber.
4) Chia SeedsA single ounce of chia seeds will give you 10 grams of fiber, making it an excellent high fiber food to take.
5) Dried Figs3 dried figs contain 10.5 grams of fiber.
6) Boiled Green PeasA cup of boiled green peas contains 9 grams of fiber.
7) RaspberriesYou can obtain 8 grams of fiber from a single cup of raspberries.
8) Pearled or Cooked BarleyPearled or cooked barley gives 6 grams of fiber for every cup.
9) Bran flakesA great source of fiber, 3/4 cup of bran flakes contains 5.5 grams of fiber.
10) PearA medium-sized pear will give you 5.5 grams of fiber.
11) Cooked QuinoaA cup of cooked quinoa contains 5 grams of fiber.
12) Whole Wheat Bread2 slices of whole wheat bread will give you 4-6 grams of fiber.
13) Brussel SproutsA single cup of Brussel sprouts contains 4-6 grams of fiber.

Remember that dietary fiber is an important part of your daily diet. Not only will it ensure regular bowel movement and prevent constipation, it accords other benefits that will prevent chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. 

References

  1. Ötles S., Ozgoz S., (2014). Health effects of dietary fiber. Acta Sci.Pol. Technol. Aliment. 13 (2), 191-202 https://doi.org/10.17306/J.AFS.2014.2.8 [Last accessed February 3, 2024]
  2. Cornell Health. Gannett Health Services. Fiber, Digestion, and Health. [Last accessed February 3, 2024]
  3. Oxford Academic. Dietary Fiber and Digestive Health in Children. [Last accessed February 3, 2024]

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