Those people who have a weight problem and consult a nutritionist or other professional will be told of the necessity to eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet, which includes the importance of eating enough dietary fiber. This is a term used often in health matters relating to weight gain. Nevertheless, what does ‘dietary fiber’ mean?
Dietary fiber is found in food products that originate from plants. It is found in all plants and trees that provide us with a large and important sector of our diets. Fruits – fresh and dried, vegetables – fresh and frozen, pulses – dried beans and lentils, whole grains, and nuts, are examples of the range of products that provide us with this vital part of our diet.
Fiber is not found in dairy products – milk, cheeses, yoghurt, nor is it present in meats, including poultry and fish.
A shortage of fiber in a diet can lead to a wide range of medical problems centered on the digestive and intestinal parts of the body: Bowel and colon cancer; constipation; irritable bowel syndrome; diverticulitis; coronary heart disease; diabetes; and over weight and obesity. Consuming the necessary daily intake of fiber can do much to overcome these troublesome medical conditions.
Unlike other components of our diet such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, fiber is not digested by the human body. It moves through the body to the bowel without being broken down.
Fiber takes two different forms, soluble and non-soluble, each form coming from different food groups.
Soluble fiber has been found to help in lowering cholesterol levels and relieving constipation. It is found in the flesh of fruits; vegetables; grains; dried beans, and lentils; and soy products.
Insoluble fiber comes from bran products; the skins of fruit and vegetables; nuts and seeds; and wholegrain foods.
Both types of fiber are equally important in maintaining a healthy digestive system so if a person is getting a sufficient amount of soluble fiber, then they would also be receiving enough insoluble fiber. Both soluble and non-soluble fiber is present in fiber-rich products.
The benefits of eating a diet high in fiber results in a more healthy and efficient operating of the bowels – it keeps constipation, hemorrhoids (haemorrhoids) and diverticulosis at bay. Soluble fiber lowers cholesterol levels. Both types of fiber lower blood sugar levels and insoluble fiber in a diet is associated with reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes. A high fiber diet assists with weight loss.
However, for over-weight people and those suffering from obesity, the benefits of eating enough fiber in their diet are that it assists with weight loss. Over-weight people have reported losing weight by consuming a diet that contains the recommended daily intake of fiber. One of the reasons for this is that food high in fiber is usually low in calories. As an example, four slices of white bread contains about 3 grams of fiber. However, four slices of wholegrain bread contains about 5.7 grams of fiber, and 10% fewer calories.
A meal with adequate fiber content acts as an appetite suppressant. This means the food is digested more slowly in the body giving a person a feeling of not being hungry, leading to the elimination of eating snack food between meals. Therefore, a person eating a meal with an adequate amount of fiber would eat less and therefore consume fewer calories. A two pronged attack leading to a healthier life style.
It is acknowledged that Westerners do not get enough fiber in their daily diets. The recommended daily intake should be about 30 grams for a mature age male. Whilst this may seem a lot, its easily achieved – eat wholegrain bread instead of white bread; eat an extra vegetable for dinner; have nuts or dried fruit, or a piece of fresh fruit as a snack instead of a bakery product.
It is imperative when eating a high fiber diet also to drink plenty of water to avoid bouts of constipation.
For most people increasing the quantity of fiber in their daily diet means only a very small adjustment, so the benefits would seem well worth the effort of making this adjustment. The over-all benefit is a much healthier life-style without any of the physical problems associated with not eating enough foods high in fiber.