Dietary Fiber


Dietary fiber is a broad term that includes non-digestible complex carbohydrates, such as cellulose, hemicellulose, mucilage and colloid, jelly resins, like pectin, carrageenan and Arabic, xanthan or guar gum. Dietary fiber is a plants' basic structural factor and exists in a water-soluble and non-soluble form.

Although insoluble fiber cannot be digested, its consumption is absolutely beneficial in terms of good function and health of the intestinal track. The colon is the lowest part of the large intestine. Since dietary fiber can absorb large amounts of water, results in bulky and soft stools and in increase of colonic activity. Softer stools involve less pressure on the walls of colon. In turn, reduced pressure can ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, a condition that affects nearly 20% of North Americans and Europeans. Food rich in dietary fiber is perhaps the best means for prevention or treatment of constipation and hemorrhoids, because it triggers the wave-like colonic movements, renders the stools soft and consequently, helps in quick and easy passage of the waste through the large intestine. By absorbing great amounts of water, fiber gets bulky, gives the sensation of fullness, reduces the feeling of hunger and makes the person to stop eating. This in turn, prevents the excessive intake of fats, carbohydrates and calories, in general. Soluble fiber may bind and interfere with the absorption of cholesterol, resulting in the excretion of this fatty substance in the feces and the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels.

Dietary fiber can contribute to diabetes management and efficient control of blood glucose level by reducing the absorption of other carbohydrates, contained in foods. Moreover, studies have given very strong evidence that diet high in fiber, along with vitamin D and pyridoxine, can prevent colorectal cancer and polyps which may be pre-cancerous formations. Colorectal is the second most common after lung cancer in the Western World.

Soluble fiber forms a soft gel in solution with water and practically does not have any caloric value for humans, because fiber cannot be absorbed within the gastrointestinal track. Both types of fiber can contribute to weight loss and are contained in numerous low-calorie products. Soluble fiber is often used in such confectionery products and fat-free soups or salad dressings, since it can give a pleasant smooth and creamy texture in the preparation. Soluble fiber may also be contained in canned or processed meat products, in order to give bulk and to reduce fat content in them.

Food sources of dietary fiber.
Soluble fiber is found in certain fruits and vegetables such as oranges, apples, bananas, broccoli and carrots. It also exists in large amounts in legumes such as peas, soybeans, lentils and beans. Secondary sources include oat bran, barley, soybeans, nuts and seeds.
Sources of insoluble fiber are whole grain foods, rye, wheat bran, nuts and seeds. Vegetables, such as green beans, leek, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, radish and carrot are high-fiber foods.

Multi-fiber blend food supplements can be a reliable and convenient dietary source. More beneficial results are reached, if these multi-fiber preparations contain psyllium. This is a plant, readily found in Europe or Asia. Its husk and seeds have been used effectively as mild bulk laxative for many centuries. You can try the button, if you are interested in finding these products online.
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Side-effects of dietary fiber.
Intake of large amounts of fiber over a short period of time can cause intestinal gas, bloating, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. These symptoms subside, once the natural bacteria in the digestive system get used to the dietary increase of fiber daily amounts. The problem with gas or diarrhea can be reasonably controlled by the gradual increase of the fiber intake.

It has been explained how dietary fiber can relieve from constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. However, too much intake of soluble fiber may have reverse effects and cause diarrhea and deterioration of irritable bowel syndrome. In general, a balanced diet, rich in fiber does not cause nutritional deficiencies. Negative effects may occur, though. Dietary fiber may impair absorption of protein, vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. In such cases, food supplementation of these nutrients may be needed.

Recommendations about dietary fiber.

  • The recommended amount for older children, adolescents and adults is twenty to thirty five grams per day, whereas the average American eats ten to fifteen grams of fiber per day. No particular standards have yet been established for the elderly or very ill people.

  • Regular intake of variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereals, dried beans and peas can provide adequate amounts of fiber which must be accompanied by plenty of water. For instance, nearly eight glasses of water are recommended to be drunk on a daily basis.

  • In order any abdominal discomfort to be avoided, the amounts added in the diet must increase gradually.

  • Two last things have to be mentioned. Fiber is not affected by temperature during cooking. Peeling of fruits or vegetables reduces the amount of fiber.