What is Fiber?
Dietary fiber is that part of plant food which our body cannot digest properly. While the rest of the components of our food are broken down and assimilated by our body, fiber is strangely impervious to the enzymes acting on it. It undergoes little change in the gut and passes out relatively unhindered. Fiber is classified into two broad groups – soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber as the name suggests dissolves in water. On coming in contact with water it takes on a gel like property and slows down the digestion process. The benefits of soluble fiber are extensive, right from ejecting the bad LDL from the body to controlling weight.
Insoluble fiber on the other hand doesn’t dissolve in water and neither is it digested by the body. It serves to regularize the bowel movements. Oatmeal, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, lentils, apples, pears strawberries, and blueberries are rich in soluble fiber. Insoluble fibers are found in whole wheat bread, barley, brown rice, bulgur, wheat bran, carrots, celery, and tomatoes.
Benefits of high fiber diet
Fiber should form an important part of our diet as it has many purported health benefits. Regular consumption of fiber keeps the heart healthy and protects it from the ravages of bad cholesterol. Insoluble fiber protects you from colorectal cancer, hemorrhoids and also ensures you have a smooth and regular bowel movement. Diabetics help keep their glucose levels steady by consuming fibers. Not to mention weight conscious people who stand to gain a lot from a fiber rich diet.
Health benefits of fiber
Controls blood sugar
When carbohydrates get digested by the body, it releases sugar into the bloodstream. The pancreas then releases insulin to manage the blood sugar levels. People suffering from diabetes are unable to manage the glucose levels in their blood because of the insulin imbalance in their bodies. However, fiber, in spite of being a carbohydrate is good for diabetics because when fiber enters our digestive system, a part of it is not digested which essentially means that your blood glucose levels remain the same even after consuming it. This is a boon of sorts for diabetics. Fiber also slows down the absorption process as a result of which sugar is released very slowly into the bloodstream controlling the sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.
Good for the heart
It is seen that people who consume a diet high in fiber suffer less from cardiovascular diseases. Soluble fibers are very effective in lowering the levels of bad cholesterol in the body. When soluble fiber gets fermented in the large intestine a short chain fatty acid is formed which inhibits the production of cholesterol in the liver. Less cholesterol in the bloodstream means lesser chances of the arteries being clogged leading to a healthy heart.
Regularizes bowel movements
Fiber adds bulk to stool forcing it to move through the intestine reducing the chances of constipation. It not only adds bulk but also softens stools thus making their passage easier through the body. People suffering from constipation can regularize their bowel movements by the intake of fiber rich foods such as whole wheat, fruits, vegetables etc.
Helps in controlling weight
Our body lacks the requisite enzymes to digest fiber. Insoluble fiber cannot be digested at all hence it provides zero energy. Some amount of soluble fiber is broken down by the body but the energy it provides is far less than say the breaking down of carbohydrates or fats. Fiber rich foods are therefore low in calories thus consuming them doesn’t add to our waistline. Moreover, our body takes a longer time to process fiber rich foods, hence we feel full for a longer time. In contrast, calorie dense food gets assimilated easily into the bloodstream making us feel hungrier often. Adding fiber to the diet is thus a good idea to keep those calories in check.
Fiber plays an important role in helping the stool pass through our colon. Without the presence of fiber in the diet, the colon has to exert more to push the stool forward. The constant pressure on the colon walls may cause it to develop bags or pouches. When bacteria get a hold on these bags, it leads to painful inflammation and leads to a condition called diverticulitis. Insoluble fiber performs a wonderful task in the easy passage of stool through the body. Thus taking a high-fiber diet is the easiest way to prevent the occurrence of diverticulitis.
When excess strain is placed on the bowels, the veins around the anus and rectum swell up resulting in the formation of hemorrhoids. A high fiber diet can help prevent the recurrence of hemorrhoids. When fiber is added to the diet, it eases up the stool and ensures their smooth passage through the rectum. Regular intake of fiber will ensure you have regular bowel movements, precluding the chances of constipation and arresting the development of hemorrhoids.
Benefits of Fiber pills
The fast food and take-away culture leaves little scope for us to have a full-fledged healthy meal. Meals on the go hardly meet our dietary requirements. In such a situation, it would be ideal if there were a way by which we could add fiber to our diet easily. Fiber supplements come in handy then. Available in pill or powder form these supplements are ideal for people who do not consume enough fiber on a regular basis. Initially designed to help people with constipation, nowadays a lot of food is available in the market which contains added fiber.
Fiber supplements, no doubt, offer most of the benefits of a fiber rich food but there is no gainsaying the fact that natural fiber rich foods are better as nothing can beat the original thing. Anyways, if one sticks to a healthy diet, then one would hardly have to go for these supplements as a well-balanced diet would provide the recommended dose of fiber necessary for the maintenance of a healthy body.
The bottom line is that fibers are extremely good for our overall health and we should take every possible measure to incorporate them into our diet.