Understanding Fiber

September 23, 2020

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Strawberries in bowl of oatmeal
Photo Courtesy: Pixabay

A Basic Guide

We see it in the news, we hear it from doctors: start eating more fiber! But what is fiber, what does it do, and how does it help us? If you find yourself asking any of these questions when you hear about fiber, you are not alone. A lot of people might not even know what it is or how it can help you either. Check out this guide below to learn more about fiber and all of its benefits!

What is it? 
Fiber is a substance in food that your body is unable to digest. Unlike proteins, carbohydrates, and fats which your body can digest and absorb, your body is unable to digest fiber and it will pass through your small intestine and colon undigested. There are two main types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is the type of fiber that turns into a gel-like substance when mixed with water that is in your intestines. Soluble fiber can be found in bananas, apples, oats, citrus fruits, beans, and barley. Insoluble fiber is the type of fiber that promotes the movement of material through your colon. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, green beans, and potatoes. 

How does it help? 
Soluble fiber helps to lower cholesterol levels by decreasing LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood. It can also control blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. This can help to improve overall blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber helps to maintain regular bowel movements and increase stool bulk, it can also help to maintain colon health by reducing risk of hemorrhoids. Overall, both types of fiber can help you achieve a lower weight if your goal is weight loss. This occurs because high-fiber foods are filling and take longer to digest. If you feel full for a longer time, you are less likely to snack on those low-fiber, high calorie foods. 

How much do you need? 
The current recommendation from the Institute of Medicine recommends that males age 50 or younger consume 38 grams per day, and 30 grams per day for males age 51 or older. For females, this is 25 grams per day for those 50 or younger, and 21 grams per day for those 51 or older. 

This is just a basic guide to fiber; to learn more, ask your doctor or dietitian. Fiber can help you in many different ways and is in a lot of delicious foods. Making small changes like having a bowl of fruit and nuts to snack on during the day or even adding a bowl of steamed vegetables to your dinner may be enough to start feeling the improvements. Just grab your favorite fruit or vegetable to get some fiber!

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