Almost everyone hears about the need for enough fiber in the diet. But few people understand the importance of dietary fiber - or where to get it. Fiber has the greatest influence on the digestion process.
Fiber is a virtually indigestible substance that is found mainly in the outer layers of plants. Fiber is a special type of carbohydrate that passes through the digestive system with minimal break down.
Fiber helps contribute to a feeling of being full, which in turn can help prevent obesity from overeating. Obesity is the most common form of malnutrition and is a factor in the two major causes of death - heart disease and cancers. So any food that helps people limit calories is beneficial.
Fiber can decrease the limit of food intake because the contents in the stomach are bulkier and stay there longer. Additionally, fiber slows digestion and absorption so that glucose in food enters the bloodstream more slowly. This is turn keeps blood sugar on a more even level. When fiber is broken down within the large intestine by bacteria, simple organic acids are produced which helps to nourish the lining of the colon.
Increased gas is a common side effect of high-fiber diets. The production of gas is a by-product of fiber digestion. Fiber binds to water and keeps the water within the intestine. The fiber/water combination adds bulk and softens the stool.
Insoluble fiber cannot be dissolved in water. This is a preferred laxative to relieve constipation. Soluble fiber is made up of simple carbohydrates and it dissolves in water. Soluble fiber helps to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Sources of fiber are found in bran, barley cereals, whole grain breads, beans, fruits and vegetables.
The bottom line, adding foods high in fiber will maintain a healthy colon, aid in digestion, lower risk of heart disease and colon cancer and help maintain a healthy weight. If you are unsure about how much daily intake of fiber should be or what foods are best for you, discuss this with your doctor.
Trisha M. Pacenti RN, BSN