Most people can tell you that they should be eating fiber, but few actually know what fiber is. While there are many definitions of dietary fiber, there is general agreement that fiber includes polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, lignin and associated plant materials that are not digested in the small intestine but instead reach the large intestine.
Dietary fiber provides health benefits in one of three ways: bulking, viscosity, and fermentation, depending on the type of fiber. Bulking increases the mass of the stool and assists in reducing constipation and improving regularity. Viscosity thickens the lining of the intestinal tract and helps lower blood cholesterol and stabilize blood glucose levels. Fermentation stimulates the growth of good bacteria in the intestine and leads to a range of health benefits, one of which is immune support. Dietary fibers can also increase satiety, improve digestive health, and may have a protective effect against certain cancers. Although many dietary fibers produce more than one benefit, no one fiber produces all of them. Consequently, it is important to eat a wide range of dietary fibers to maximize these health benefits.
Despite the proven benefits of dietary fiber, many Americans are not getting the required daily amount. Women should consume at least 25 grams of fiber a day and men should consume at least 38 grams a day (general rule of thumb is that for every 1000 calories consumed, one should consume 14 grams of fiber). Research has shown that adults in the U.S. are only consuming 15 grams of fiber a day on average. Contrary to what this statistic implies, it is easy to find foods that have dietary fiber. They can be found in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Additionally, several foods have also been fortified with fiber so that consumers have more options to get their required daily intake of fiber. Added fibers can now be found in many foods, including yogurt, cereals, breads, fruit juices, milk, tortillas, baked goods, ice cream, hard and chewy candies, and nutrition supplement bars and beverages. Studies have shown that these added fibers offer the same health benefits that natural fibers do.
|Fibers that add bulk to stool may help reduce constipation and improve digestive health.||Viscous fibers may help lower blood cholesterol and, along with certain non-viscous fibers, assist with blood sugar control and weight management efforts.||Diets rich in fermentable fibers may result in increased mineral absorption, immune support, and insulin sensitivity.|