Fiber, also known as roughage, is the indigestible part of plant foods that travels through our digestive system, absorbing water along the way and easing bowel movements.
The word fiber comes from the Latin word "fibra," meaning thread, string, filament, entrails.
Dietary fiber refers to nutrients in the diet that are not digested by gastrointestinal enzymes.
In this article, we will look at the different types of fiber, why they are important, and what foods contain high levels of fiber.
Contents of this article:
Fast facts on fiber
Here are some key points about fiber. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Fiber is often split into two types: soluble and insoluble
- Dairy products and white bread are low in fiber
- Cereal grains, seeds, and fruits are high in fiber
- Fiber helps speed up the elimination of toxic waste through the colon
- Kidney beans, pinto beans, and Brussels sprouts all contain soluble fiber
Soluble and insoluble fiber
Fiber consists of non-starch polysaccharides, such as cellulose, dextrins, inulin, lignin, chitins, pectins, beta-glucans, waxes, and oligosaccharides.
There are two broad types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble fiber dissolves in water. It changes as it goes through the digestive tract where it is fermented by bacteria. As it absorbs water, it becomes gelatinous.
- Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. As it goes through the digestive tract, it does not change its form. It can also be fermented by bacteria in the colon.
Foods that contain dietary fiber are generally divided into predominantly soluble or insoluble; both types of fiber are present in all plant foods, but rarely in equal proportions.
Both forms of fiber have major health benefits.
According to Dr. Warren Enker, Vice Chairman, Department of Surgery, Beth Israel Medical Center, United States, a good diet involves watching your calorie count, including food rich in nutrients and vitamins, avoiding saturated fats, and paying particular attention to all sources of fiber.
Below is a selection of foods that contain high amounts of fiber.
|Cereal grains - ½ cup cooked||Soluble||Insoluble|
|Barley||1 gram||4 gram|
|Oatmeal||1 gram||2 gram|
|Oat bran||1 gram||3 gram|
|Psyllium seeds ground (1 Tablespoon)||5 gram||6 gram|
|Fruit (1 medium fruit)||Soluble||Insoluble|
|Apple||1 gram||4 gram|
|Banana||1 gram||3 gram|
|Blackberries (½ cup)||1 gram||4 gram|
|Citrus Fruit (orange, grapefruit)||2 gram||2-3 gram|
|Nectarine||1 gram||2 gram|
|Peach||1 gram||2 gram|
|Pear||2 gram||4 gram|
|Plum||1 gram||1.5 gram|
|Prunes (¼ cup)||1.5 gram||3 gram|
|Legumes (½ cup cooked)||Soluble||Insoluble|
|Black Beans||2 gram||5.5 gram|
|Kidney Beans||3 gram||6 gram|
|Lima Beans||3.5 gram||6.5 gram|
|Navy Beans||2 gram||6 gram|
|Northern Beans||1.5 gram||5.5 gram|
|Pinto Beans||2 gram||7 gram|
|Lentils (yellow, green, orange)||1 gram||8 gram|
|Chick Peas||1 gram||6 gram|
|Black-eyed Peas||1 gram||5.5 gram|
|Vegetables (½ cup cooked)||Soluble||Insoluble|
|Broccoli||1 gram||1.5 gram|
|Brussels Sprouts||3 gram||4.5 gram|
|Carrots||1 gram||2.5 gram|
Functions and benefits of insoluble fiber
Soluble fiber can help regulate sugar levels.
Insoluble fibers have many functions, including moving bulk through the digestive tract and controlling pH (acidity) levels in the intestines.
Benefits of insoluble fiber:
- Promotes regular bowel movements and prevents constipation
- Speeds up the elimination of waste through the colon
- By keeping an optimal pH in the intestines, insoluble fiber helps prevent microbes from producing substances which can lead to colorectal cancer
Food sources of insoluble fiber include vegetables - especially dark green leafy ones, root vegetable skins, fruit skins, whole wheat products, wheat bran, corn bran, nuts, and seeds.
Functions and benefits of soluble fiber
Soluble fiber binds with fatty acids, it slows down the time it takes to empty the stomach and the rate of sugar absorption by the body.
Benefits of soluble fiber:
- Reduces cholesterol, especially levels of LDL (bad cholesterol)
- Regulates sugar intake, this is especially useful for people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Soluble fiber is fermented by gut bacteria, improving immune, digestive, and overall health
Good sources of soluble fiber include kidney beans, pinto beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, apples, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, prunes, oatmeal, and whole-wheat bread.
Insoluble and soluble fiber: Recommended intake
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the recommended daily amount of fiber for women is 25 grams and, for men, it is 38 grams. However, after the age of 50, it is recommended that women drop their intake to 21 grams and men to 30 grams.
As most high-fiber containing foods usually have insoluble and soluble fiber, it is not necessary to be too careful about dividing them up.
In other words, your focus should be on fiber intake in general, rather than on the specific type of fiber.
Oat, oat brans, psyllium husk, and flaxseed are rich in both types of fibers.
Consuming 25 grams of fiber each day should be enough to meet daily requirements. Ideally, individuals should consume at least five servings of fruit and vegetables, as well as some servings of whole grain products, each day.
Why fiber is healthy
Eating fiber has many health benefits. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the consumption of soluble fiber has been shown to protect against heart disease by reducing cholesterol levels.
The consumption of insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing constipation, colitis, colon cancer, and hemorrhoids.
A high-fiber intake can significantly contribute toward body-weight control. Fiber produces a feeling of fullness without adding calories (fiber calories are not absorbed by the body) - this can help treat or prevent overweight/obesity.
Most foods that are high in fiber are also very healthy for other reasons. Take, for example, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains; they are high in fiber but also rich in vitamins and other essential nutrients. In other words, eating a high-fiber diet protects health through both the intake of fiber and other essential nutrients.
Fiber and food allergies
Apples can be a good source of fiber for people who are allergic to other high fiber foods.
People who are allergic to high-fiber foods can find it difficult to get the right amount of fiber. However, with such a wide variety of fiber-containing foods around, it should be possible to find some that do not cause a reaction. Also, pharmacies sell fiber supplements, which can help bridge the gap.
The following high-fiber foods are the least likely to be allergenic: