Research stacks heavy in favor of a diet rich in plant fibers. Studies have demonstrated that fiber can help lower cholesterol, aid in weight loss, support healthy liver function, treat constipation and hemorrhoids, among other things. Despite all these health benefits, Americans are only averaging 10 to 15 grams of total fiber per day. This average meets only half of our daily fiber needs. The USDA recommends 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men per day. Consuming a high-fiber breakfast meal is a great way to ensure you are meeting your daily fiber needs.
Soluble vs Insoluble Fiber
Fiber has been traditionally classified based on its solubility or insolubility. Water-soluble fibers can dissolve in hot water, whereas insoluble fibers do not dissolve in hot water. The majority of plant foods are soluble. Foods that are rich in water-soluble fibers include legumes, oats, barley, rye, chia seeds, flaxseeds, most fruits, and vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, artichokes, and onions. Foods that are rich in insoluble fiber include whole grains, legumes, nuts, bran, seeds, cauliflower, zucchini, celery, and green beans. Generally speaking, most whole grain products and vegetables contain more insoluble fibers. Fruits tend to be higher in soluble fibers, which are found on the skin and pulp.
The soluble/insoluble classification for fiber has been used to observe health outcomes. For example, soluble fiber was thought to slow down digestion, which helps with blood sugar regulation and fat absorption. Insoluble fiber was thought to speed up digestion and promote fecal bulk and bowel movements. However, current research is now shifting away from this classification and more toward viscosity and gel formation.
Viscosity & Gel Formation: The New Classification Standard for Fiber
Viscosity is related to fiber’s ability to hold water and form a gel within the digestive tract. While most fibers are able to hold water, not all form a thick, jelly-like mass. Foods rich in viscous gel-forming fibers include asparagus, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, turnips, apricots, mangoes, oranges, legumes, barley and oat bran. Consuming foods rich in these gel-forming fibers can help slow down digestion, increase satiety (feelings of fullness), and reduce lipid (such as cholesterol) and glucose absorption.
Fiber that is undigested in the small intestine is then brought to the colon, where it is fermented by bacteria. Most insoluble fibers are not fermented. Fibers that are not fermented help increase fecal mass, adding in constipation relief. Fermentable fibers include most soluble fibers, which provide energy and nutrients for healthy bacteria in the colon to grow. Some fermentable fibers function as prebiotics in the colon. Prebiotics are undigested substances that provide healthy bacterial growth in the colon. Probiotic supplements and foods feed off these probiotics, which further enhance healthy gut flora.
Health Benefits of Fiber
Several studies have looked at the relationship between fiber intake and diseases. Positive outcomes have been reported in four major areas; these include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight management, and gastrointestinal disorders.
Dietary Fiber for Weight Loss
A large clinical trial was performed using 345 overweight or obese adults to see if fiber intake predicts weight loss and dietary adherence. Researchers found that dietary fiber intake was strongly associated with adherence to a calorie-restricted diet and promoted significant weight loss amongst the participants.
Dietary Fiber for Heart Disease Prevention
A literary review of dietary fiber interventions for cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis found that increasing one’s daily fiber intake can help protect the heart. In addition, findings concluded that a diet rich in fiber significantly lowers total and LDL cholesterol levels. Furthermore, for those taking cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins), dietary fiber has been shown to reduce side effects and improve drug tolerability.
Dietary Fiber for Gastrointestinal Disorders
Researchers have examined the current evidence for dietary fiber’s use in the management of gastrointestinal disorders. Fiber’s ability to improve micronutrient availability, gut transit time, stool formation and microbial health directly impacts gastrointestinal health. Further research on the relationship between different types of dietary fibers for the management of gastrointestinal disorders looks promising.
Dietary Fiber for Diabetes
In a meta analysis of cohort studies, researchers examined the associations of a high dietary fiber intake with a significant reduction of developing type 2 diabetes. Fermentable (mostly soluble) fibers, in particular, have been shown to improve insulin resistance by increasing the gut microbiota. In addition, viscous, gel-forming fibers delay the absorption of dietary carbohydrates, thereby lowering the glucose response post-meals.
Foods High in Fiber
Try incorporating more of these foods into your breakfasts!
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