What is Fiber? A Complete Guide on Recommended Fiber Intake, Benefits, Deficiency, and More

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Reviewed by: Dr. Dipa Rani

Dietary Fiber or roughage are the parts of plant food your body can’t digest. Fiber is found in the indigestible parts of cereals, fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes like beans and peas.

It is very important to include fiber in your diet for the well-being of your body. Fiber helps control blood sugar levels and aids in achieving a healthy weight. Fiber also helps lower cholesterol and maintain bowel movements. It is vital to include the required sources of dietary fiber in your diet to achieve the recommended daily intake.

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What is Fiber? 

Fiber is a class of nondigestible carbohydrates and lignin associated with several health benefits. Fiber keeps the digestive system healthy. So, unlike fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, where the food components are broken down by the body for digestion, fiber is not digested. It is eliminated from the body through the stomach, small intestine, and colon.

What are the different types of Fiber? 

Fiber is classified into two different types – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water easily whereas insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve.

Some of the natural sources of fiber are pears, strawberries, avocados, oats, apples, raspberries, bananas, carrots, beets, broccoli, lentils, kidney beans, split beans, chickpeas, popcorn, almonds, sweet potatoes, whole grains, legumes, etc. Fiber supplements are also a source of fiber. You may consume supplements if you can’t consume enough fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.

Recommended Daily Intake of Fiber

The daily value of fiber in men and women depends on the age and sex of the person. Older adults require slightly less fiber as compared to younger adults. Also, the requirement for fiber in men is higher than in women.

  • The recommended daily fiber intake in adult men is 30g per day, whereas in women, it is 25g per day.
  • For men under the age of 50, 31 to 34 is the daily requirement of fiber per day, whereas for women under 50, 25-28 g per day is the required daily intake of fiber.
  • Similarly, for women aged 51 and above, the recommended daily fiber intake is 22 g per day, whereas in men, it is 28 g per day.
  • Children, on the other hand, have different fiber needs. For example, children aged 1 to 18 years require 14–31 g of fiber per day, depending on age and gender.

Depending on the calorie goal of an individual, the amount of fiber can be calculated. For example, if you aim to consume 2000 (plus/minus) calories per day, you can calculate the needed fiber by dividing your calorie goal by 1,000 and multiplying the number received by 14. Let’s say, you aim at 1,500 calories per day, so you can divide 1,500 by 1,000, which is 1.5. Now, multiply 1.5 by 14. You will get 21 g, which is your ideal fiber requirement per day.

Benefits of both Types of Fiber

As already discussed, soluble and insoluble are the two categories of fiber. The soluble fiber dissolves in water and breaks down easily into the gastrointestinal fluids after entering the stomach and intestines. It becomes a gel-like substance that gets digested in the large intestine by bacteria.

Here are some dietary fiber benefits of soluble fiber:

  • Soluble fiber reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases
  • It supports stabilizing blood sugar levels
  • It helps in lowering cholesterol levels
  • It also helps with weight management

Insoluble fiber stays intact and doesn’t dissolve in the gastrointestinal fluid. It remains unchanged while moving through the digestive tract. Since this fiber is not digested, it is not counted as a source of calories.

Below are some benefits of insoluble fiber:

  • Prevents constipation
  • Prevents the risk of hemorrhoids in the colon

Health Benefits of Fiber

Let’s take a look at some more important health benefits of Fiber:

1. Fiber improves digestive health:

Fiber influences the way food gets digested, and nutrients get absorbed. It also affects the movement of the body’s waste products through the colon.

2. Fiber manages weight and satiety:

By reducing hunger and prolongation of satiety, dietary fibers prevent obesity.

3. Fiber regulates blood sugar:

Fiber helps control blood sugar. Since fiber is not absorbed and broken down by our body, it doesn’t increase the blood sugar level like carbohydrates.

4. Fiber controls heart health and cholesterol:

Fiber reduces blood pressure and inflammation and enhances heart health. Eating fiber, primarily soluble fiber, lowers the level of LDL cholesterol. They trap cholesterol and prevent your body from reabsorbing it into your bloodstream.

5. Fiber prevents diseases:

Fiber promotes good health and minimizes the risk of several diseases like colon cancer, colorectal cancer, etc.

Fiber and Gut Health

Dietary fiber produces beneficial microbial metabolites like short-chain fatty acids when it gets fermented with human gut microbiota. This benefits your health by improving the immune system and reducing inflammation. Further, dietary fiber decreases the chances of constipation and helps maintain good bowel health. Dietary fiber adds bulk to the stool and provides digestive benefits.

The human digestive system stores trillions of microorganisms/bacteria, including good and bad. The good bacteria in the gut flourish because of fiber. Thus, fiber consumption increases the number of good bacteria. Plant fibers called prebiotics are a specific type of fiber that bacteria in the gut like.

Fiber in Specific Diets

Vegetarians or people following vegan diets have higher chances of fiber intake than non-vegetarians. This is because vegetarians eat fiber-rich legumes, whole grains, and vegetables. As per a study, people who consume both plants and meat consume about 27 g of fiber a day. On the other hand, vegans obtain about 41 g, while vegetarians obtain about 34 g per day respectively.

To incorporate fiber in gluten-free meals, add cooked, dried beans to soups and salads. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables over juices. Substitute whole gluten-free grains into your daily recipes. Similarly, to incorporate fiber in low-carb diets you may include more vegetables, fruit, and bran in your meal plans.

Signs and Symptoms of Fiber Deficiency

If you have been feeling constipated lately and have had extended trips to the washroom, it may be a sign of your body telling you that you need to add more fiber to your diet. Fiber adds bulk to your stool and regulates your bowel movement. It also aids in your digestive health.

Fiber deficiency is linked to conditions like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, heart ailments, and more. If fiber deficiency continues for a long time, it might lead to an increased risk of blood pressure and heart problems, along with diabetes and obesity.

How to Increase Fiber Intake?

If you think you are fiber deficient, here are some tips to incorporate more fiber into your daily diet.

  • Start your day with fiber by having a high-fiber breakfast comprising of whole grain or unprocessed wheat bran
  • Switch to whole grains like whole wheat bread or whole wheat flour. Include brown rice, barley, whole-wheat, and bulgur in your diet
  • Use whole-grain flour for baking. Add uncooked oatmeal or unprocessed wheat bran to bakery items like cakes, muffins, cookies, etc.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Consume healthy snacks like fresh fruits, raw vegetables, low-fat popcorn, nuts, and dried fruits.

Below is a sample food that you may try for a rich fiber source:

  • Breakfast – green smoothie – 12 g fiber
  • 10 am Snack – baked banana (one serving) – 3 g fiber
  • Lunch – 1 serving salad with crunchy chickpeas – 13 g fiber
  • 3 pm snack – 1 small apple – 3 g fiber
  • Dinner – 1 serving of chickpeas and spinach stew – 13 g fiber

You can modify your food items for each meal to attain the required fiber intake.

Precautions and Considerations

It is important to gradually increase the fiber intake so that no digestive discomfort can be felt in your body. Also, you may note that consuming adequate water with increased fiber is essential. Equally vital is to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice about the required fiber intake per your health conditions.

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Conclusion

Fiber is a macronutrient and a kind of carbohydrate that is naturally found in plant-based food. Fiber is vital for your overall health and has a tremendous positive impact. It is important to make informed choices for a fiber-rich diet to give your body the required fiber intake for a healthy life. In case of any doubt, it is better to consult your healthcare professional for the best guidance.

Along with healthy eating, availing of comprehensive health insurance is fruitful in ensuring security against ailments and the expenses there of.
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Dec 13, 2023
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