But there is far more to know about fiber, especially in relation to health and wellness. What exactly is fiber? Why is it so good for our digestive systems? Can it fend off disease? How much should we consume? How does the recommended intake?
Dietary fibers are parts of plants (storage and cell wall polysaccharides) that the human body’s digestive enzymes cannot break down. Broadly, they fall into two categories: soluble fibers, which dissolve in water, and insoluble fibers, which do not dissolve in water. For example, oat bran contains mostly soluble fiber, while wheat bran has mainly insoluble fiber (Marlett et al. 2002). Soluble fibers typically form a gel in water and/or are fermented in the colon (Slavin 2013). Fiber can occur naturally in plant-based foods like beans and whole grains, or it can be isolated from plants and then added to foods (USDA & HHS 2010).
Fiber’s documented health benefits range from satiety and weight control to reduction of cardiovascular disease risk. The Institute of Medicine identifies three primary health benefits of fiber: reduced risk of coronary heart disease, assistance in the maintenance of blood glucose levels and improved laxation (IOM 2005).
Blood Glucose Levels
Research shows that people who eat high-fiber diets are less likely to have diabetes. Studies also show that higher-fiber diets may play a significant role in preventing diabetes or in halting the progression of prediabetes to diabetes (Anderson et al. 2009). Current evidence suggests that a daily diet with 30–50 g of fiber results in lower blood glucose levels than a low-fiber diet does (Marlett et al. 2002). This may be relevant to people who need to manage their blood glucose.
Laxation and regularity are the most widely recognized benefits of consuming enough fiber. Combining a high-fiber diet with adequate fluid intake and adequate exercise (such as walking or running) helps maintain regularity and may prevent constipation (ACG 2010). Fiber assists in maintaining normal bowel movements by increasing the weight and size of stools; it also promotes a softer stool consistency.
When the Institutes of Medicine established the Dietary Reference Intake system, there was not enough evidence to create a Recommended Dietary Allowance (commonly known as RDA) for fiber. An Adequate Intake, or AI, for fiber was determined based on the amount needed to reach the lowest risk for coronary heart disease.
Whole-grain foods include oatmeal, ready-to-eat cereal, oat-based cereal bars and whole-grain bread. Other sources of fiber include fruit such as bananas, apples and strawberries, and legumes and vegetables like peas, lentils and spinach.
Understanding Food Labels
A product can be labeled a “good source of fiber” if it has at least 2.5 g of fiber per serving. It can be labeled an “excellent source of fiber” if it has 5 g or more of fiber per serving.
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