Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Benefits of fiber

Executive Summary

Our bodies cannot digest fiber. So it passes through our digestive tract without any change

Men should take 38 gm of fiber daily, while women should take 25 gm. Most people get about 10–15 gm a day.

When the daily intake of fiber crosses 35 gm, the incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer starts going down.

Fiber helps in weight loss, constipation, and even diarrhoea. It reduces absorption of cholesterol and sugars in the intestines. It also is a pre–biotic, helping healthy bacteria in the colon.

Fiber is useful in heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, colon cancer, gastric reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, and autoimmune conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Fiber is probably the world’s most forgotten nutrient.

Questions this article will answer

  1. What is fiber?
  2. Why is fiber important?
  3. How much fiber do I need daily?
  4. Do I need to eat more fiber?
  5. What are the benefits of fiber?
  6. Can fiber help me lose weight?
  7. What time of day should I take fiber?

Why fiber is important

It is that part of the plants that our bodies cannot digest. So it passes through our digestive tract largely unchanged and is eliminated in the stools. Since it has no calories nor absorbable nutrients, people think fiber is not important.

Interestingly, many other animals, such as cows and buffaloes, can digest fibers and assimilate nutrients from them in their bodies. They have enzymes for digesting fibers, such as cellulose.

Science is slowly learning fiber’s health benefits in heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, colon cancer, gastric reflux, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and autoimmune conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

Here is a YouTube interview of Dr Robynne Chutkan, a gastroenterologist with specialisation in ulcerative colitis, about fiber and its uses:

ConsumerLab.com’s interview of Dr Robynne Chutkan, a practising Gastroenterologist, discussing the importance and many uses of fiber.

Modern diet is low in fiber

In 2008, the American Dietetic Association issued its position paper on fiber, advising a daily intake of 38 gm of fiber for men, and 25 gm for women.

Until the last century, most of the food we ate was natural and less processed. So it was high in fiber, usually tougher to eat, and therefore, less palatable. Modern food industry processes our natural foods, removes fiber from them and sometimes, adds empty calories and flavourings, such as salt and sugar. As a result, modern food is low in fiber.

Most people think they are eating enough fiber, but they actually don’t. It is estimated that most western diets give only about 10–15 gm of fiber through diet.

Myriad benefits of fiber

It has been noticed that as the fiber intake crosses 35 gm per day, the incidence of many of the lifestyle disorders, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, start going down. The exact reason is not known.

Fiber binds to cholesterol and lowers it. Consuming 10 gm extra fiber daily lowers heart attack deaths by 25%.

Water-soluble fiber helps in diarrhoea (by absorbing water) as well as constipation (by bulking the stools).

Taking 14 gm extra fiber daily helped participants lower 2 kg in 4 months by increasing feeling of fullness and satiety.

Fiber helps in diabetes by slowing down sugar absorption, helping to stay full longer, reducing belly fat, and by not letting insulin levels rise too high or too fast.

Fiber is food for useful bacteria in the intestine (hence, it is called a pre–biotic, which is different from a pro-biotic, such as yogurt). It helps by raising population of beneficial bacteria in colon, which reduces inflammation (swelling) in intestine. Thus, it helps in autoimmune conditions, which some experts say originates from inflammation in our digestive system.

If you cannot get enough fiber from food, take fiber supplements, preferably in the morning to let gravity help you.

In conclusion

Increase your daily intake of fiber (from diet or supplements) by 10 gm if you have normal health, and by up to 20 gm if you have medical issues such as diabetes, constipation (or haemorrhoids), high cholesterol, high blood pressure autoimmune conditions, and obesity.

Don’t take fiber supplements at least 1–2 hours before you take any medications, since fiber can reduce the absorption of any medicines in the intestine.

First published on: 30th July, 2016

Image credit: Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

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