Importance of Dietary Fiber

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In this article, we discuss the importance of dietary fiber to the human body.

What is Fibre?

Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes all parts of plants that your body cannot digest or absorb and is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

Dietary fiber comes from the portion of plants that is not digested in the intestinal tract. Part of it, however, may be broken down by bacteria in the lower gut. Different types of plants vary in their amount and kind of fiber. Fiber includes pectin, gum, mucilage, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.

It is type of a carbohydrate that helps keep our digestive systems healthy.

There are three different types of fibre which all have different functions and health benefits.

1. Soluble Fibre

This type helps to slow the emptying process in our stomachs, which helps you feel fuller. It also helps to lower cholesterol and stabilise your blood glucose levels. Soluble fibre is found in fruits, vegetables, oats, barley and legumes.

2. Insoluble Fibre

This type absorbs water to help to soften the contents of our bowels and support regular bowel movements.

It also helps to keep us full and keep the bowel environment healthy.

Insoluble fibre is found in wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, seeds, wheat bran and the skin of fruit and vegetables.

3. Resistant starch

This type is not digested in the small intestine and instead proceeds to the large intestine where it can assist in the production of good bacteria and improves bowel health.

Resisitant starch is found in undercooked pasta, under ripe bananas, cooked and cooled potato and rice.

The Importance of Dietary Fiber

The different types of fiber play different roles in the body system.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance as it passes through your digestive system. This substance helps slow digestion and prevents your body from absorbing too much starch and sugar. Some good sources of soluble fiber are: oats, beans, peas, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, and psyllium.

Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and is a great benefit for those who suffer from constipation or irregular stool. Some great sources of insoluble fiber are: whole wheat flour, wheat bran, beans, and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.

The benefits of consuming the recommended amount of fiber are:

1. Normal bowel movements: Dietary fiber prevents and relief of constipation. Dietary fibre increases the bulk of stool and stimulates motion of the large intestine. It absorbs water, lubricates the large intestine and makes defecation easier.

2. Bowel Health: Dietary fiber helps in maintaining gut health. Dietary fibre stimulates the activity of “good” bacteria in the intestine which might in turn maintains gut health.

3. Cholesterol, risk of Heart Disease: Dietary fiber helps in lowering of blood cholesterol level, hence prevention of heart disease Soluble fibre combines with bile and then excretes it. This in turn lowers blood cholesterol.

4. Blood sugar levels, and the risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Dietary fiber helps in stabilizing blood sugar level and controlling of diabetes. Soluble fibre can slow down the absorption of blood sugar

5. Colorectal Cancer: Dietary fiber provides protection against cancer of the large intestine. Dietary fibre prevents the accumulation of cancer-causing (or carcinogenic) materials because it shortens the retention period of waste materials.

Foods rich in Dietary Fibre

Examples include:

Cereals – wholemeal bread, red rice, oatmeal

Vegetables – kale, watercress, spinach

Root vegetables – potato, sweet potato

Beans – mung bean, kidney bean, black-eye bean, red bean

Fungi – straw mushroom, button mushroom, white fungus, black fungus,

Fruits – orange, grapefruit, prune

Others – sesame, chestnut, cashew nut, peanut.

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