Fiber your new best friend: Demystified

14 Aug

Food is food and delicious food is even better. But how do we know the difference between the friends and the foes? We all hear about fiber and how it is so wonderful for our health. Although the term fiber seems to get thrown around left and right and splattered all across cereal boxes, how many of us truly understand what fiber does? Really, not many of us really pay much attention the term fiber.

I was on a recent bad food binge lately, and after that I felt the urge to start a period of detoxing to feel less guilt about the binge. My research on fiber begins with understanding the physical properties, functions and sources of fiber. After defining fiber, my research lead into the comparison of fiber to is evil cousin sugar. The information I found helped clarify a lot about why fiber is said to be so beneficial for our health, but also how to be weary of the hidden evil cousin.

Fiber the tale to two equally good twin siblings:

The recommended daily fiber intake is between 20 to 35 grams. Fiber, it turns out, comes in two forms. There is a water soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Both forms have its own beneficial properties. Fiber in general are forms of complicated polysaccharides that are resistant to digestive enzymes such as amylase that breaks down polysaccharides in rice, bread and pasta starches into simple monosaccharides your cells and use. Instead of getting broken down like regular starches, fiber does not break down into simple sugars that easily. This results in a full feeling without the increased caloric intake.

The more commercialized of the two types of fiber is the water soluble variety. These are the same kind of fibers sold as powder dietary supplement. The reason soluble fiber has gain so much attention is because of its ability to lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar levels making it a big hit with those in risk of heart disease and diabetes. The one major draw back of soluble fiber consumption is the production of gasses that may cause some inconvenience. As soluble fiber enters the intestinal tract, it is not broken up into sugars right away. Instead, these polysaccharides require the bacteria living in the intestines to slowly break them down by fermentation. The fibers adsorbs water on its surface and become a gel like substance that traps bile acids and other carbohydrates.

Bile acids is made by the liver from endogenous (body’s own) cholesterol and secreted into the intestines to help with the breakdown of dietary fats and cholesterol for absorption. By trapping bile acids the fiber gel, the acids are not able to break down the fats and the body will pass the fats out by excretion. This lowers the body’s ability to intake of cholesterol and therefore lowers the body’s LDL (the bad cholesterol that sticks to your arterial walls).

Sugars and other carbohydrates also gets trapped in the fiber gel complex, reducing the rate the sugars are absorbed by the body. Sugars that are trapped are held back and slowly released as the fiber is gradually broken down by bacterial fermentation. As the fiber is broken down by fermentation, short chains of fatty acids are produced. These short chain fatty acids act on the pancreas to promote insulin production. With increased insulin production, less sugars are allowed free in the blood stream.

As wonderful as soluble fiber seems to be, do not forget about its twin insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber provides a feeling of fullness with out eating, aid in regularity and constipation. A diet high in soluble fiber can cause constipation without sufficient fluid intake. So make sure to drink plenty of water. Eating enough insoluble fiber will also help balance the side effects of high soluble fiber consumption.

Where can you find good sources of fiber?

Well, before you go run out to buy a tub of soluble fiber powder consider getting it the natural way through food. There are many easy ways to get the fiber our body needs by adjusting our eating habits just a little bit. You can try switching to whole grain, brown rice, wild rice, barley or whole wheat pasta.  Add more beans, legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds into your diet.

A large source of fiber that many people lose out on daily are in fruit and potatoes. The skin on fruit like apples contain half the fiber content. A peeled apple contains 5% DV of fiber, but a unpeeled apple contains 10%. When eating an apple try eating it with the skin on. Also, instead of drinking orange juice eat an orange. Not only will you feel fuller, but you will also have eaten a good about of fiber. As far as most fruits go, eat the fruit and not just drink the juice. Potatoes are also a regular item in daily meals, but often a large part of its nutrients and fiber content is wasted because the skin was removed. Potato skins is not only a good source of fiber (15%DV per medium potato), but also contain more iron per gram than spinach.

Now days a lot of of food products are trying to enrich their foods with a lot of things that are supposedly good for us. In stead of picking up the box with the word fiber in the largest font possible, the box to the side panel and take a look at the nutritional panel and the ingredients list. When looking at the nutritional panel, a good source of fiber is at least 2.5 grams (10%DV) of fiber.

The evil cousin Sugar

In addition to looking at the fiber content, also take care to look at the sugar content. As an adult, the female recommended daily sugar allowance is 20 grams and for men 36 grams. If the panel states that the sugar content is more than 25% of your daily value (5g for women and 9g for men) then even if the fiber content is 10 grams (40%) it is better to put that box down. There are exceptions to the sugar recommendation. If the sugar content is a little on the high side first take a look at the where the sugar is coming from by looking at the ingredients list. If the first sugar listed on is high fructose corn syrup then put that package down and walk away. If something like dried fruit is listed very high up on the list and corn syrup is not then the food is not too bad to eat because the sugar natural and not extra added sugar.

I hope that this has helped in explaining the function, benefits and the sources of fiber. We all know it is hard to eat healthy with limited time and money, but fiber is easy to fit into our diets if we know what to look for. Here are a couple of good links that list good fiber sources and other nutritional information about food.


One Response to “Fiber your new best friend: Demystified”


  1. Food when we have no time on the go « Nerds With Food - August 18, 2011

    […] is very important in choosing a food bar. As I have previously discussed in my last health rant, fiber has the wonderful quality of keeping us feeling full for a longer period of time. For a good meal […]

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