Everyone knows that the vegetables we dreaded as kids are packed with goodness. Be it vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants. But did you know that they are also a huge source of dietary fiber? Besides keeping your bowels in check, fibers also reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and colon cancer. But it’s important to note that different types of fibers carry different types of health benefits.
Dietitians and doctors alike recommend a diet rich in fiber for all age groups. Be it children, teens, adults, or senior citizens, fiber benefits everyone without discrimination. This blog post is your beginner’s guide to fibers and the role it plays in your health.
What is fiber, and how is it classified?
We’ll begin by answering the first part of this question.
‘Fiber’ is an umbrella term used for a group of various complex carbohydrates that the human body isn’t designed to digest. The human body doesn’t produce the enzymes required to digest fibers. While most carbohydrates get disintegrated into glucose, fiber passes through the system unchanged and undigested. It aids in controlling the use of sugar in the body while keeping those hunger pangs and blood sugar levels in check.
Ideally, fiber is classified into two categories: dietary and functional. Dietary fiber is found in organic produce, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and legumes. Functional fiber is the fiber drawn out from whole foods and added artificially into processed foods.
Another popular way of classifying fibers is by their solubility. Namely: soluble fibers and insoluble fibers. Even further classification alternatives include their viscosity and fermentability.
Soluble and insoluble fibers
As the name suggests, soluble fiber combines with water to form a gel in the stomach. Among other health benefits, it helps revive the metabolism and manage blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber does not mix with the water in the stomach and passes through the system unchanged. It acts as a ‘bulking agent’ and can aid in moving food and waste through your digestive tract more easily.
Types of soluble fibers
- Inulin, oligofructose, oligosaccharides, and fructooligosaccharides: These soluble fibers aid immensely in bowel movement and managing blood sugar levels. It is also a prebiotic but it can act as a laxative for those with sensitive bellies.
- Beta-glucans: This soluble fiber acts as a prebiotic and helps revive the metabolism. However, they don’t have a laxative effect. It also lowers high blood sugar and cholesterol.
- Pectins: These soluble fibers carry minimal bulking or laxative effects. However, they slow down digestion, making you feel full for longer. This slow metabolism helps control sugar production in the blood, regulating blood sugar levels. They also help in managing high cholesterol levels.
- Guar-gum: Doesn’t act as a laxative. It can aid in the regulation of blood sugar and cholesterol.
- Resistant starch: Acts as a bulking agent but doesn’t have a laxative effect—aids in regulating cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Types of insoluble fibers
- Lignins: These insoluble fibers help in the secretion of mucus in the colon and act as a bulking agent. It can have laxative effects.
- Cellulose: This insoluble fiber acts just like lignin. They are bulking agents and can have laxative effects.
Trillions of digestive bacteria reside in the human gut, majorly in the large intestine. These bacteria help in several processes besides digestion, like weight management, immunity, controlling blood sugar, cognitive function, and even mental health.
As stated earlier, the human body is unable to digest fiber. Hence, it moves to the large intestine unchanged. This is where fermentable fiber works its magic. This is one fiber that the gut bacteria can digest and use as fuel. Most fermentable fibers are soluble, in case you were wondering what to eat.
Viscous fibers form a thick, gel-like structure when mixed with water. Viscosity is referred to as the ‘thickness’ of a liquid. Upon ingesting foods rich in viscous fiber, they form a gel-like substance that stays in the stomach for a prolonged duration. This helps in creating a feeling of ‘fullness’, slows down the metabolism, and aids in the effective absorption of nutrients. Studies have suggested that eating foods rich in viscous fiber can help lose weight and reduce appetite.
Here’s your guide to get you inducted into the world of fibers, we hope it helps. Including fibers in your diet isn’t that hard a task. Just make sure that whatever you’re eating is organic and whole, and your body will take care of the rest.