It is important for us to eat more fiber. We see that in various commercials all the time on TV. Fiber promotes good intestinal health and helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. A high-fiber diet also lowers the risk of developing some cancers, especially colon and breast cancer. And it can help lower cholesterol, especially the LDL cholesterol. High-fiber foods are also lower on the glycemic index, a great help to those with Type 2 Diabetes.
Another really important role of fiber is that some fibers are prebiotics—meaning they are fermented in the colon by the healthful beneficial bacteria. We will be doing another blog on prebiotic fibers, such as those in Fré® and Vim®.
There are two types of fiber--soluble and insoluble. Both soluble and insoluble fibers are undigested. They are therefore not absorbed into the bloodstream. Fiber content is often listed under "Total Carbohydrates" on a Nutrition Facts label. Because it is undigested, it provides 0 calories. Instead of being used for energy, fiber is excreted from our bodies. Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid, while insoluble fiber passes through our intestines largely intact.
So, what’s the difference?
Soluble fibers dissolve and break down in water, forming a thick gel. Insoluble fibers, also known as roughage, do not dissolve in water or break down in your digestive system. Insoluble fibers, such as the tough skins on foods and brans and seeds, pass through thee gastro-intestinal tract almost intact. We need both types of fiber, and most high fiber foods have combinations of these. Take an apple, for example--the skin contains insoluble fiber and the juicy flesh contains soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber helps to reduce constipation and keep the overall digestive process moving along.
Soluble fibers prolong the stomach emptying time so that sugar is released and absorbed more slowly, providing a longer period of energy. They also help to control diarrhea and lower “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL).
Together both types of fiber help to regulate bowels, control cholesterol and blood sugar, protect against colon cancer, and help prevent diverticulitis.
If you’ve looked at labels lately, you’ll notice that foods give you the total amount of fiber, but don’t break it down into soluble or insoluble. So how do you know what kind you’re getting? The best strategy for getting more fiber is to try to eat whole foods—that is, whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans rather than processed foods (like crackers and chips). Like the apple, most of these have both types of fiber.
If you’re counting carbohydrate grams, remember that if you are eating something that contains at least 5 grams of fiber, you may deduct those from the number of carb grams. For example, if you’re eating a whole wheat tortilla that has 16 grams of carbs and 6 grams of fiber, you can count that tortilla as only 10 grams towards your carb allowance.
Good sources of soluble fiber are: barley, beans, blueberries, oatmeal, pears and psyllium—as well as Frē® and Vim®.
For insoluble fiber, eat plenty of carrots, celery, seeds, whole grains, whole wheat products, and zucchini (which your neighbors with gardens will be happy to give you free).
One thing you must remember, though, when you increase your fiber, you need to make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids (especially water). This is especially true of soluble fiber. If you increase your fiber intake, but don’t drink enough, you may get constipated, which kind of defeats the purpose of eating more fiber in the first place.
Most Americans get only about 15 grams of fiber per day in their diet. But the recommended amounts are about 25 grams for women under 50 and teenage girls. Teenage boys and men under 50 (who consume more calories than women) require upwards of 30-38 grams of dietary fiber daily.
Soluble fructan fibers:
Fructans are naturally produced polymers of fructose. They are dietary fibers which give energy at 1.5 calories per gram, unlike most dietary fibers, which give no energy.
So what’s a polymer? If you’re like me, when you hear that word, you immediately think “plastic.” And you’d be right. There are some synthetic polymers that are plastics, such as polystyrene (or Styrofoam). But there are also natural biopolymers such as DNA and proteins that are fundamental to biological structure and function.
A fructan is one of those biopolymers that is naturally produced by flowering plant species, and is especially abundant in the chicory plant. It is also found in agave, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, wheat, jicama, bananas and asparagus. Chicory is the principal source of fructans today. This particular fructan is known as inulin.
Inulin-type fructans are not digested or absorbed in the stomach. They resist digestion and function as dietary fiber, improving bowel habits. They also support the growth of the health-promoting gut bacteria and reduce the numbers of potential harmful bacteria, so are prebiotics. In other words, they are good for you.
Studies have shown that fructans enhance calcium and magnesium absorption, help with appetite regulation and reduce the risk of colon cancers. It is considered suitable for diabetics and potentially helpful in managing blood sugar-related illnesses. Supplementation with inulin has been shown to significantly reduce insulin concentrations and lower triglyceride levels.
Let’s talk about the appetite regulation function, since if we are less hungry, we will eat less and not gain weight so easily. How exactly does this work? When fiber is digested, it ferments. A recent (April 2014) study by Imperial College London found that an anti-appetite molecule called acetate is released as a waste product as a result of this fermentation. The acetate then travels to the brain where it signals us to stop eating. The study used mice, some fed with a high fat diet plus inulin, others fed a high fat diet without any inulin. The mice that were fed the inulin showed a higher level of acetate in their guts. The researchers were then able to track the acetate through to body until it ended up in the region of the brain that controls hunger. These mice ate less and gained less weight.
Humans used to consume more fiber way back when than they do now, since low-fiber prepared foods are more popular than fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. That’s why we gain weight so easily nowadays. If we increase our intake of healthy, fiber-rich foods, we’ll find ourselves not even wanting the less-nutritional foods that currently make up the bulk of our diets. That’s not easy, since we are basically lazy and have become used to the processed foods that take less of our time to prepare. So science’s next challenge is to find a way to get the fiber we do consume to produce more acetate than normal. Until they do, it’s up to us to decide our health is more important than convenience and start eating better.
For most people the use of prebiotic fructans, such as Frē® and Vim®, in their diet will lead not only to a healthier digestive system, but also to weight loss.