Dietary fiber: essential for healthy living

4 minutes

Key takeaways

  • Fiber is crucial for digestion, blood sugar control, weight management, and immune function.
  • Different types of fiber, such as soluble and insoluble fiber, play specific roles in promoting gut health and overall well-being.

Did you know that, in the U.S., more than 90 percent of women and 97 percent of men do not meet the daily recommended intake for dietary fiber?

In this article, we will explore the importance of fibers and the role they play in our overall health.

What is dietary fiber?

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in fruits, vegetables, and nuts. However, unlike most carbohydrates, fiber is unique in that it cannot be broken down during digestion. This means that it passes through the stomach and intestines and reaches the large intestine undigested.

What does dietary fiber do?

Fiber aids in digestion, preventing constipation and promoting bowel regularity. Additionally, fiber helps control blood sugar levels and supports weight management by promoting a feeling of fullness. Its ability to nourish beneficial gut bacteria also strengthens the immune system.

Why is fiber important if they cannot be digested?

First, it’s important to understand the different types of fiber.

Soluble fiber mixes with water and slows down digestion. It helps lower glucose levels and help lower blood cholesterol. Foods with soluble fiber include oatmeal, chia seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, apples, and blueberries.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Instead, it acts as bulk and helps food move through the digestive system, promoting regularity and helping prevent constipation. Whole wheat products, quinoa, brown rice, legumes, leafy greens like kale, almonds, walnuts, seeds, and fruits with edible skins like pears and apples are all examples of insoluble fiber.

“Of all the beneficial effects of dietary fiber, the most widely known and appreciated is the effect on gut motility and prevention of constipation.”

Fiber and your gut microbiota

Fiber plays a pivotal role in shaping the gut microbiota, the diverse community of microorganisms residing in our digestive system. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that the human body can't digest, but the beneficial bacteria in your gut love.

Prebiotics act as food for microorganisms, stimulating the growth and activity of good bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are found in a variety of foods, including bananas, onions, broccoli, garlic, and whole grains. To learn more about prebiotics, be sure to watch the film where we explain the difference between prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.

A healthy gut is, of course, essential for overall health, and this is where probiotics come in. Probiotics and prebiotic fiber work synergistically to promote gut health.* Fiber nourishes beneficial gut bacteria, while probiotics boost digestion and immunity.* They work together to both support and improve health.*

Among their many benefits, certain probiotics have been shown to:

  • Improve digestive health and reduce symptoms of digestive disorders such as bloating or occasional constipation*
  • Boost the immune system and promote a healthy immune response*
  • Enhance nutrient absorption and help to prevent nutrient deficiencies*
  • Reduce absences from work*
  • Reduce GI/gastrointestinal side effects of certain medications*


Studies have also shown that probiotics may help reduce anxiety and improve mood.*

How much fiber should I eat?

The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that adults should eat 28 grams per day based on a 2000-calorie intake.

This amount varies depending on age and sex:

 Grams of fiber/day

Women Men

Under 50 years of age

25-28 31-34

51 years and above

22 28

 

Table 1: recommended intake of fiber per day according to USDA’s dietary guidelines for Americans

Tips for increasing your fiber intake:

Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices. Fruit juice is often loaded with sugar. In contrast, whole fruit contains more vitamins and minerals and the fiber in whole fruits helps regulate blood sugar and helps you to feel fuller longer.

  • When eating bread, rice, or pasta, choose whole-grain options. Whole-grain options contain more fiber and nutrients than less healthy, white alternatives.
  • Eat a handful of nuts every day. Snacking on nuts is an easy and delicious way to add fiber to your diet. However, as with everything else, moderation is key.
  • Drink plenty of water. Water-soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract. The gel-like substance promotes healthy digestion and supports regular bowel movements.

In conclusion, fiber is essential for living a balanced and vibrant life, including aiding in digestion, promoting bowel regularity, and acting as food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

To learn more about nutrition and probiotics, explore the other articles and videos here in our Learning Lab.

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