When you consume plant foods, your body is only capable of digesting part of it. The roughage, or the indigestible part of the plant, is called fiber - it plays an important role in healthy digestion. Keep reading to learn about the different types of fiber, the health benefits it provides, and how much you need in your daily diet.
Soluble vs. Insoluble
Through the process of digestion, your body breaks carbohydrates down into sugar molecules, which are then utilized for energy. The parts of the plant that your body can’t break down pass through your system undigested and are excreted in the form of stool. There are two types of dietary fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble is the type which can be dissolved in water and it adds bulk to your stools, helping to regulate your digestion. Insoluble does not dissolve in water and it helps to pass food through your digestive system, improving regularity and preventing constipation.
What Are the Health Benefits?
An important component of most foods (aside from meats and dairy products), dietary fiber provides a variety of health benefits. Here are some of the most important:
- Improved digestion - Adds bulk to stool to promote regular bowel movements and to prevent constipation.
- Heart health - Reduces LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in the bloodstream.
- Digestive regularity - Speeds up the process of eliminating waste from the body.
- Type 2 diabetes - Regulates sugar intake, helping to prevent blood sugar spikes for diabetics.
- Intestinal health - Helps to balance the pH level in intestines to prevent bacterial overgrowth and other digestive disorders.
- Stronger immunity - Easily fermented by beneficial bacteria in the gut, helps to improve digestive and immune health.
- Weight loss - Helps you to feel full for longer, aids in appetite suppression and weight loss.
- Chronic disease - May reduce the risk for heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.
In addition to the benefits listed above, fiber may help to maintain a healthy body weight over time. Research suggests that people whose diets are lacking in this nutrient tend to have more body fat than those who meet or exceed their daily recommended intake. By meeting your daily requirement you can reduce your risk for certain types of cancer, as well.
How Much Do You Need?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a daily intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. If you are over the age of 50, your daily recommendations may be a little lower – around 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men. Consuming at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables is usually enough to meet your daily recommended intake, and, because most foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, you don’t really have to worry about how much you are getting of each.
Where Can You Get It?
Increasing your intake of this essential nutrient is easier than you might think. Whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are all excellent sources.
To boost your daily intake, try some of these tasty tips:
- Consume whole fruits and vegetables instead of juice
- Eat beans or other legumes rather than meat
- Swap out white bread and pasta for whole-grain alternatives
- Choose fresh fruits and veggies as snacks instead of chips or crackers
- Include one serving of whole grains or fresh vegetables in every meal
- Add toasted nuts or seeds as toppings for soups and salads
If you are having trouble getting your daily recommended intake naturally, there are plenty of supplements you can try instead. These generally come in powder form and can be stirred into your choice of beverage for easy consumption. Natural sources are generally more nutritious, however - you should try to get at least half of your daily intake from whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, and other healthy foods.
This indigestible nutrient plays an important role as part of a healthy diet, so take the time to evaluate your current diet to see whether your intake needs to be increased.
Have some extra time? Here are some of our best recipes using Nature's Path products that are high in fiber:
- Granola Breakfast Muffins
- Avocado Toast with Hemp Plus "Bacon"
- Lemon Chia Seed Tea Loaf
- Spicy Vegan Crispy Cauliflower Bites
- Qi'a Crusted Tofu