One thing is for sure: if you want to adopt a healthy lifestyle and have good eating habits, then fibers are one of the must-haves in your diet!
However, what exactly are dietary fibers, how many types are there and what are their benefits?
1. What exactly are dietary fibers?
Fibers are a type of carbohydrates that is not digested by the human organism. Although listed on nutrition labels under “Total carbohydrates”, they provide 0 calories as they are not broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream.
Fibers are divided into two main groups:
- Soluble fibers: They dissolve in water forming a gel and are easily digested by bacteria in the human colon.
Types: gums, pectins, psyllium and some hemicelluloses.
- Insoluble fibers: non viscous, less fermentable, these fibers absorb water and speed the movement of material through your digestive system.
Types: cellulose, lignins, resistant starch, hemicellulose.
2. Benefits and sources of each group of fibers
Whether soluble or insoluble, fibers have many undeniable benefits:
- Oat Bran
- Fruits (apples, citrus)
- Legumes (especially green peas and black eyed peas)
- Seeds and husks
Lower cholesterol and heart disease risk:
- Soluble fibers bind with cholesterol containing compounds and carry them out with the feces. And since these compounds are needed in digestion, cholesterol stocks are mobilized in order to synthesize more. This is how the body will be able to get rid of the cholesterol and prevent its elevation in the blood.
- Diets that are rich in fibers are usually low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. They also provide antioxidants and are usually associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Control blood glucose:
Soluble fibers slow glucose absorption and prevent a rapid elevation of its concentration in the blood often predisposing to diabetes.
For people with established diabetes, a high fiber diet can modulate blood glucose levels and help prevent medical complications.
Soluble fibers hold moisture in stools making them softer, thus making the process of defecation easier.
- Brown rice
- Vegetables (cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts)
- Wheat bran
- Whole grains
Insoluble fibers are more concerned with fighting constipation because they add bulk to stools helping them pass more quickly through the intestines.
3. Common benefits of both groups of fibers
- Maintaining the health of the digestive tract
Both types of fibers can help prevent diseases such as hemorrhoids (swelling of the rectal veins), diverticulosis (infection of diverticula, abnormally bulging pockets in the colon wall) and appendicitis. Studies have also proven they can protect against colon cancer by diluting cancer-causing agents and speeding their removal from the colon. Additionally, when soluble fibers ferment, they form small fat molecules which can activate cancer killing enzymes and reduce inflammation in the colon.
- Weight management
Fibers can help regulate weight by slowing gastric emptying, making you feel full longer! In consequence, your food consumption will be considerably reduced.
Now that you know what they are, you should start including them in your diet. Learn about that in our next article!