The Benefits Of Fiber

Fiber. Look anywhere and the benefits of fiber are being preached at you by TV commercials, magazine ads and even cereal boxes. But fiber is a carbohydrate and those are supposed to be bad. Or we should at least be limiting our intake of them, right? What gives?

To get a better idea of why the benefits of fiber are such a big deal, we need to look a little closer.

What is fiber?

Fiber, as stated, is a type of carbohydrate. There is one primary difference between fiber and other carbs: it doesn’t break down during digestion.

Simple carbs (sugars) and starches (complex carbs) are broken down by digestive enzymes to immediately supply the body with energy or to be stored in the fat cells for later use. Fiber is not, or at least not much of it is. That simple difference gives us an idea to the benefits of fiber.

The Two Fibers

Insoluble fiber, or ‘roughage’, doesn’t dissolve in water. It aides the digestive system by increasing the bulk of stool and the speed that food moves through the intestines, helping to prevent constipation and promote regularity. This ‘bulk’ effect also shows in the initial digestion stage, which helps us feel full faster. In this way, it discourages overeating and the excess consumption of calories which naturally follow. Feeling full with less food sounds like fiber and weight loss go hand in hand.

Whole grains, bran, many nuts and several vegetables are good sources of insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber, by contrast, does dissolve in water. During digestion the fiber attracts water and becomes gelatinous. This helps to trap other carbs, slowing the absorption of glucose which limits fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Soluble fiber also works to lower cholesterol levels, mainly ‘bad’ or LDL cholesterol. It also has the effect of helping you feel full faster, just like insoluble fiber.

However, since soluble fiber does change during digestion, it’s believed that a very small amount of is converted to calories. While there is still no consensus on just how many calories are absorbed, some nutritionists estimate between 2 and 4 calories per gram of soluble fiber. Oats, barley, carrots, apples and beans are common sources of soluble fiber.

How much fiber do we need?

While there is no official RDA on fiber intake, unlike many other nutritional components, other health institutes recommend roughly 25 grams per day. Statistics, however, show that the average daily consumption of fiber is much lower than this amount, roughly 50% lower.

One study of over 500 subjects, over the course of a year, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School showed that those who consumed 22 grams or more in their high fiber diet plan were 63% less likely to have high CRP levels. High CRP – C-Reactive Protein – is linked with higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Removing The Hype

Like all aspects of diet and nutrition, the benefits of fiber can be – and sometimes are – overstated. But numerous studies agree that a high fiber diet is definitely a good step towards a healthier lifestyle. And if eating more fiber helps keep hunger under control at the dinner table, then that sounds like a nice side benefit in my books on