Dietary Fiber


In the standard American diet, dietary fiber tends to fall to the wayside. It’s a part of your diet that is not frequently talked about and so is not well understand by many people. However, dietary fiber has many functions that may help to improve your overall health and well being, if you pay attention to how much of it you consume.

Some doctors even think that the chronic lack of this aspect of our diets can contribute to chronic and worsening health problems; [1] let’s explore what exactly dietary fiber is and how we can make sure we’re getting what we need.

What Is It?

Dietary Fiber [2] is the indigestible portion of food derived from the plant matter contained within a food. Also known as “roughage”, dietary fiber can be either soluble or insoluble depending on the source. Think of the ‘stringy’ parts of vegetables, such as the tougher stalk of a broccoli floret.

What Does It Do?

Fiber is not digested in the stomach; rather, its work starts once it is passed into the intestines. Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that can absorb water, making it larger than it originally was.

This helps not only to make you feel fuller faster as you eat, but to regulate the passage of stool. Ideally it moderates digestion by softening harder stools and adding extra bulk to soft stools. As fiber is fermented by the bacteria in your digestive tract, it can change the way other nutrients are absorbed.

Additionally, proper types of fiber in the digestive tract have prebiotic properties. This means that that encourage your digestive tract to produce helpful bacteria which can protect the intestines against infection or harmful inflammation.

How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?

A bodybuilder’s diet is typically quite high in protein, as this is the fuel used by your body to grow and properly maintain muscle mass. However, if you increase your protein intake without also moderating your fiber intake, you may experience unpleasant digestive side effects and constipation.

Ensuring you eat an adequate amount of fiber in proportion to your total intake will prevent this. Additionally, anyone who works out with the goal in mind of trimming down or losing weight may be aided by increasing their fiber intake even slightly; fiber in a meal will help you feel more satisfied and allow you to go longer between meals without cravings.

This is beneficial because fiber provides these benefits without adding to the calorie count of a meal; for anyone trying to lose weight or slim down this additional fiber can help make the process easier.

What Foods Contain It?

Dietary fiber is found in nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, and certain fruits or vegetables such as the skin of apples, whole grapes, peaches, broccoli, carrots, artichokes and more.

How much Of It Do You Need?

The recommended daily amount [3] of dietary fiber is 25 grams for females and 38 grams for males.

Are there Risk Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?

Consuming too much fiber can cause rather unpleasant physical symptoms. These include gas, bloating, dehydration, cramping, and constipation. Increasing your fiber intake too quickly can also cause these symptoms.

If you are concerned that you are not getting enough fiber and want to increase your fiber intake to a healthier level, try increasing your intake by 5 grams/day every week until you reach your dietary fiber goal. This increase should be gradual enough that most people will not experience unpleasant side effects while increasing their fiber intake.

Are there Risk Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?

A diet too low in fiber can contribute to your risk of heart disease and cancer, as well as obesity as those who do not eat enough fiber tend to be hungrier and so consume more calories than those who eat the recommended amount of fiber every day.

Other symptoms of a diet too low in fiber include constipation, nausea, and unsteady blood glucose levels. Additionally, if you suffer from inflammatory intestinal issues like IBS, Crohn's Disease or Colitis, it is possible that consuming too little fiber will cause your symptoms to flare and become worse.

Since many people eat too few vegetables, or eat only the very starchy vegetables that are rich in carbohydrates, it can be easy to miss out on one of the most common sources of dietary fiber. If any of the symptoms above apply to you, or you are that fitness-minded individual looking to eat smaller portions without feeling deprived, then it may be worth your while to start incorporating more fiber into your diet.

Try to focus on eating less processed foods and more veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds. Making a commitment to these types of small changes over time will lead to a more balanced diet and will enable to reach your optimal health.

References:

[1] WebMD. 4 Signs That Your Diet Lacks FIber. Webmd.com, 2016.

[2] The Mayo Clinic. Dietary Fiber. mayoclinic.com, 2016.

[3] WebMD. Fiber: How Much Do I Need?. Webmd.com, 2016.