What do you know about fiber? Well, if you’ve read any health article within the past couple years, you know that fiber helps to maintain optimal gut health. Fiber has the ability to help you feel full and stay regular, which is the information most people absorb. Did you know that fiber comes in two different forms? This article aims to explain the difference and benefits of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
What Is Fiber?
Fiber is a term that refers to every component of plant-based foods that cannot be digested or absorbed. Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that doesn’t elevate blood sugar levels, unlike breads, sugars, and other simple carbohydrates. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are the most predominant sources of dietary fiber. It’s an essential nutrient that you must consume via diet. As a general recommendation, women should consume 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should consume 38 grams of fiber per day. The sad reality is that most American adults only consume 16 grams of fiber per day.
Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber
For the most part, fiber stays intact for the majority of its journey through the body. This is unique because the body breaks down food into nutrients it can use, but it can’t digest or absorb fiber. This is a good thing, believe it or not. Soluble fiber, which includes plant pectin and gums, dissolves in water and gastrointestinal fluids upon entering the stomach. The body converts it into a gel-like substance that bacteria in the large intestine digest. Soluble fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut, helping to optimize gut health.
Insoluble fiber, which includes plant hemicellulose and cellulose, does not dissolve water or gastrointestinal fluids. In fact, it passes through the digestive tract without changing much because the body doesn’t digest it. Because of this, insoluble fiber is not a source of calories. Insoluble fiber absorbs the body’s fluids and sticks to other materials to form stool. By helping the body form softer, bulkier stools, insoluble fiber promotes regular bowel movements.
Benefits Of Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber works to control how and when the body absorbs certain nutrients like carbohydrates. This may help prevent large amounts of glucose from entering the bloodstream that lead to blood sugar spikes. Regulating blood sugar can not only keep hunger in check, but also prevent mood swings. Soluble fiber may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol levels and stabilizing blood sugar. Additionally, decreasing fat absorption may improve circulation and optimize heart health.
By lowering fat absorption, soluble fiber may assist with weight management. The thick gel-like substance that the body makes from soluble fiber actually blocks fats that the body would absorb and digest. Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, soluble fiber helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. As these fermentable fibers enter the colon, bacteria feed on them to create short-chain fatty acids, which help boost metabolism, reduce inflammation, and increase energy levels.
Great Sources Of Soluble Fiber
- Citrus fruits
- Brussels sprouts
Benefits Of Insoluble Fiber
Insoluble fiber passes through the digestive tract intact because it doesn’t dissolve in water. It tends to have more of a laxative effect, pulling water into stool so that the body has an easier time eliminating. This is beneficial for anyone who suffers from constipation or poor digestive health. That being said, insoluble fiber is necessary for encouraging regular bowel movements. By preventing constipation and blockages, insoluble fiber works to lower the risk of diverticular disease. Preventing small folds and hemorrhoids in the colon encourages a healthier colon, reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.
Great Sources Of Insoluble Fiber
- Wheat bran
- Green beans
- Whole wheat flour
- Brown rice
- Chia seeds
- Dark leafy greens
Most plants tend to have both forms of fiber, making it more beneficial to increase your consumption of plant-based foods. Enjoy a bowl of oatmeal, smoothie, salad, lentil soup, or roasted vegetables, to increase your fiber intake. Consuming both types of fiber not only beneficial for improving digestive health, but also reducing the risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and certain types of cancer.