What is fiber and what are fiber foods? Dietary fiber is the parts of plant foods that aren’t digestible. This includes the plant walls, skins, and seeds. Foods that are highly refined are lacking in dietary fiber. A diet high in refined foods and low in fiber can lead to a host of digestive issues, including constipation. As many as 63 million Americans suffer from chronic constipation according to the NIH. These latest figures are from 2000. It’s a good bet the numbers are even higher today. So what does fiber and fiber foods have to do with all this? Read on to learn how dietary fiber helps with digestive health and how fiber foods added to your diet can help you overcome chronic constipation.
What Is Fiber?
As stated above, fiber is the parts of plants eaten for food that aren’t broken down and digested by the body. Whereas proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are broken down during digestion and absorbed, plant fiber is not digested. This fiber adds bulk to the stool because it passes basically intact through the digestive system and is expelled from the colon. There are basically two classifications of fiber, soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble Fiber- Soluble fiber is dissolved by water to form a material that resembles a gel. Soluble fiber foods are good because in addition to adding bulk they also can lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Oats, peas and beans would be examples of soluble fiber foods.
- Insoluble Fiber- Insoluble fiber is not dissolved by water. This type of fiber moves through the digestive system basically intact. It is the type of fiber that helps bulk up the stool and can help with constipation.
Most plant foods high in fiber contain a mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber. To gain the most benefit you should eat a rich mixture of high fiber foods.
How Fiber Helps With Digestion
- Eating a diet rich in fiber can help with constipation. Since it bulks up the stool it stimulates the colon to move the digested food out. Also, for fiber to work you need to drink plenty of water. Water helps to keep the fiber from building up by keeping it hydrated so your body can move it through the digestive system.
- Fiber is food for the good bacteria in your gut. You may have heard of probiotics, the good bacteria that your gut needs to perform digestion. But did you know about prebiotics? Fiber is prebiotic that the probiotic bacteria need to feed off of and thrive.
- A diet high in fiber foods can also help prevent some gastrointestinal illnesses like diverticulitis. A diet rich in fiber can also help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. A high fiber diet has also been linked to a decreased risk of colon cancer.
List of common fiber foods:
Brussels Sprouts, 2 grams
Broccoli, 4-5 grams
Bread, 4-7 grams – 2 slices whole wheat, pumpernickel, seven-grain
Carrots, 3-4 grams
Bran Cereals, 5-10 grams – All-Bran, Bran Buds, 100% Bran, Raisin Bran
Beans, 6-10 grams – baked beans, black beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, garbanzos, pinto beans, white beans
Berries, 4-5 grams – blackberries, raspberries
Sweet Corn, 5 grams
Peas, 7-9 grams – black-eyed peas, green peas
Greens, 4-6 grams – beet greens, collards, kale, spinach, turnip greens
Bananas, 3 grams – medium 8″ long
Dried Figs, 10 grams – 3 figs
Fruit, 4 grams – medium apple, medium pear
Easy ways to increase fiber:
Eating brown whole wheat bread instead of refined white bread
Including more lentils, fruits, and vegetables in your diet (see above list for some of these)
Eating brown rice instead of refined white rice
Eating bran cereal or granola cereal for breakfast
As you increase the fiber in your diet you may experience bloating or gas at first. If your doctor suggests you need additional fiber foods in your diet, it is best to go slowly at first. Once your gut gets used to the new diet in a few weeks, you can then most likely eat all the fiber you need.
Food supplements for fiber:
Even when you do your best sometimes it is hard to get enough fiber in your diet. If this is the case you have the option of adding fiber supplements to your diet to help you get enough fiber in your diet.
Psyllium husk- is a common supplement (Metamucil)
Methylcellulose-made naturally from the cell walls of plants (Celvic, Celevac)
Polycarbophil-is based on plant sources- This may cause less bloating than Psyllium husk (Fibercon, Equalactin) This is often used when treating digestive disorders
Increasing fiber foods in your diet will help your digestive system function better. This can result in lowering your cholesterol and improving your overall health. With improved health, you will be able to feel better, look better, think better and enjoy your life to the fullest.