You probably already know that fiber is important to your health. But did you know that diets high in it are linked to a healthy heart?1 Some foods that are really high in fiber include peas, especially split peas, beans of all sorts, artichokes and even raspberries. You should be getting at least 25 grams per day, but most folks only get about half that.2 Fiber supplements are also available and can be a smart addition to a healthy diet but should not be a substitute for a poor one. These supplements are also common for weight loss.3 This is because fiber is ‘bulky’ and makes you feel full while supplying almost no extra calories.
Different Types of Fiber
There are two main types of fiber; soluble and insoluble.
As its name suggests, soluble fiber is soluble in, or dissolves in water. In your stomach, any food, water and fiber mix together and the fiber dissolves in the water. This slows the rate at which your small intestine can dissolve food. Since nutrients, including sugar, are more slowly able to enter your bloodstream, your blood sugar is better regulated.3 It also turns out that soluble fiber reduces your LDL’s.4
Some common food sources High in Soluble Fiber:
- Flax seed
Also like its name suggests, this type of fiber is NOT soluble in water. When mixed with food and water in your insides, it forms a sort of ‘gel’ that follows your digestive tract. This gel sticks to anything it comes in contact with, such as food particles hiding in the folds of your intestines and thus keeps your digestive tract clean. In fact, this is likely a large part of why insoluble fiber is associated with lower risk of colon cancer.5 It also has a tendency to balance pH levels in your gut.
Some Foods High in Insoluble Fiber
- Wheat bran
- Dark green leafy vegetables
One main type of fiber is known as inulin. It is particularly important because it is prebiotic. This is a fancy term for a ‘food’ that the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut feed on. Since your friendly bacteria help you digest food, produce some vitamins and even produce hormones that affect mood and appetite, inulin is a great choice. Also, inulin is a common fiber in foods like oats and many vegetables and fruits.
As you might expect, this is another type of fiber. It comes from cellulose, the material that constitutes the structure of plants. Thus, consuming any plant material such as fruits and vegetables, will supply at least some of this type. Methylcellulose is non-fermentable, meaning that when your gut bacteria feed on it, they are less likely to create gas which can lead to…well…gas (and bloating). Methylcellulose is also common in the culinary world for its use as a thickening agent.
The plantago ovata plant produces seeds from which psyllium is derived and is common in anti-constipation products like Metamucil. Its fiber content is 70% soluble and 30% insoluble. Thus, it provides the best of both worlds. It is great for overall digestion, blood sugar regulation and regularity. Psyllium is also a great treatment for various digestive disorders. These include Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, hemorrhoids and anal fissures.
Although most often marketed in the product Benefiber, wheat dextrin is a byproduct of wheat. Although it has no taste, it dissolves easily in water. Thus, it is soluble. It is also often used in cooking, but does not thicken like other types. Research has shown it to be effective in the regulation of blood sugar and digestion.3 Although it is gluten free, it is about 20 parts per million gluten. So, if you are hyper-sensitive to gluten it may not be a great choice.
Getting Your Fiber
Of course, it is always best to get your nutrients from high quality foods sources, but I suspect you are not naive enough to think that doing so is always realistic. Of course, fiber is no exception. While Uncle Sam says we ought to get 25g daily,1 everyone is different and Uncle Sam does not necessarily have the best information. That is why some experts suggest much higher daily intakes. But in any case, getting enough every day is very important and supplementation is a great way to ensure that you are getting an adequate dose.