- Diet & Weight Loss
Reasons To Have A Fiber Rich Diet
A high fiber diet provides protection against heart diseases and diabetes
Fiber is an indigestible complex carbohydrate found in plant foods such as grains, vegetables, and fruits. Its natural function is to provide skeletal support to the plants, the way we have bones, joints and skeletal system in our body. Without fiber, no plant would be able to stand erect in its position. As per the American Association of Cereal Chemists, "Dietary fiber is the edible part of plants or analogous carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion and absorption in human small intestines, with complete or partial fermentation in the large intestines. It includes polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, lignin and associated plant substances. It promotes physiological functions including a laxative effect, blood cholesterol attenuation and blood glucose attenuation."
British physician Dennis Burkett observed that, rural people whose staple diet included whole grains, seeds, roots, vegetables and nuts, had a lower incidence of diseases such as hernias, hemorrhoids or piles, diabetes, diverticulitis (small pouches in large intestines), heart diseases and digestive disorders as compared to their urban counterparts, who mostly preferred peeled fruits and processed flour breads. This is what he called as "Bran Hypothesis".
Natural sources of dietary fiber
High (>10 gm/100 gms)
Wheat, oats, maize, pearl barley, legumes (peanuts, red kidney beans, green lentils, soy bean), peas, fenugreek
Medium (1-10 gms/100 gms)
Rice, vegetables (leafy greens, drumstick, cluster beans, ridge gourd, snake gourd), fruits (dates, guava, custard apple, pomegranate with seeds, apples, black currants, oranges, grapefruit, berries), nuts, seeds.
Fiber from whole grains and cereals is superior to that obtained from fruits and veggies in preventing weight gain and helps reduce waist circumference
Types Of Fiber
Fiber comes in two different forms that react differently when water is added to them, and thus have different effects on our body. This basic types of fiber, include the following:
- Soluble fiber: This imbibes water, swells up, and forms a sticky gel-like substance, that increases the viscosity of intestinal contents and makes us feel fuller faster. This type of fiber includes pectin, gums, and mucilage. It is naturally found in oat products (oatmeal, oat bran), legumes (dried beans, lentils) and pectin-rich fruits (apples, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, nectarines, and other citrus fruits). It helps lower blood cholesterol, maintain blood sugar within normal levels, and helps prevent heart diseases and cancer.
- Insoluble fiber: This type neither dissolves in, nor absorbs water when mixed with it. It passes as such through the digestive tract, as our body does not contain enzymes to digest it. This includes cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. It is commonly found in wheat bran, whole grain foods, beans, stems and leaves of vegetables, and seeds of fruits. It acts as a natural cleanser or a scrub brush, that moves solid wastes through the intestines, and absorbs and removes toxins from the inner lining of intestines. It helps in regular bowel movements, prevents and controls digestive disorders, and cancer of large intestines.
The reasons, due to which, we need to add fiber-rich foods in our diet, and the health benefits of fiber, include the following:
Types of dietary fiber
Type of fiber
Apple, citrus fruits, peas, beans, carrots, flax seeds, psyllium, oats, barley, figs, plums, prunes, broccoli, jerusalem artichokes
Vegetables, whole grains, nuts, cauliflower, zucchini, celery, skin of kiwifruit and tomatoes
1. Provides protection against obesity
A high-fiber diet causes early satiety. It makes the diet bulky, and delays absorption of sugars and fats. As a result, you are less likely to overeat. Research suggests that fiber from whole grains and cereals is superior, as compared to that obtained from fruits and vegetables, in preventing weight gain, and helps reduce waist circumference. The fiber component in our diet has zero calories, so there is no risk of obesity with regular intake of high fiber food items. Soluble fiber reduces the inflammation associated with obesity-related diseases and also strengthens the immune system.
2. Reduces constipation
Constipation has been defined as the frequency of passing stools of less than three times per week, excessive straining, hard stools, intestinal fullness and a sense of incomplete evacuation. It usually occurs as a result of disturbances in intestinal movements, with certain medicines and in association with a large number of diseases. It gets exacerbated by illnesses that lead to inactivity or immobility, lack of fiber in the diet, generalized muscle weakness, stress and anxiety. Constipation is a common part of irritable bowel syndrome, hypothyroidism, diabetes, pregnancy, collagen vascular diseases such as systemic sclerosis, along with antidepressants, codeine and other narcotic pain relievers, iron supplements, and aluminium and calcium containing antacids.
3. Improves digestion
The human body does not contain enzymes to digest fiber, so it is not absorbed, but simply passed through our digestive tract. It acts as a natural scrub brush for our intestines. Processed, oily, sugar laden and junk food that has become a part of our diet, causes accumulation of toxins in the inner lining of the intestines. This, in turn, prevents the absorption of nutrients, and can lead to weakness and disease. Fiber removes this waste and encourages regular bowel movements. It protects vitamins from being destroyed during cooking.
4. Prevents heart disease
Lowering high blood cholesterol reduces the incidence of coronary artery disease. The higher the level of LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) or "bad" cholesterol, the greater is the risk of heart problems. Conversely, the higher the level of HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) or "good" cholesterol, the lower is the risk of coronary artery disease. Soluble fiber helps keep the heart healthy. The American Heart Association reports that soluble fiber binds with cholesterol and fat in our diet, and helps prevent it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Adding just three and a half ounces of oat bran to the daily diet, can reduce cholesterol by an average of 13% over a period of 10 days, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. It prevents the bile acid absorption in small intestines and promotes its breakdown into the water soluble forms in large intestines that get eliminated with stools. This causes increased synthesis of bile acids from cholesterol, and, in turn, reduces body cholesterol.
5. Protection from diabetes
Diabetes mellitus is a syndrome associated with disordered metabolism and an inappropriate increase in blood sugar levels, due to either a deficiency of insulin secretion, or to a combination of resistance to the hormone insulin, and its inadequate production. Regular intake of soluble fiber can help prevent and control diabetes. Diabetics who add more fiber, fruit, vegetables, and grains, can improve their blood sugar levels, and may reduce their medicine requirements. The binding action of soluble fiber reduces the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream from our intestines, spreading it over a long period of time. Thus, it has a blunting effect on the sharp rise in blood glucose levels after meals, and later on, a rapid fall. Studies by the American Diabetes Association prove that high fiber diets improve glucose tolerance and lower insulin requirements. Soluble fiber absorbs toxins from the digestive tract and helps in proper absorption of nutrients.
Regular intake of fiber rich diet reduces the risk of certain cancers
6. Cancer prevention
Tumors of the lung, prostate, breast, colon, and rectum are the most common types of cancer. Tobacco use, alcohol consumption, obesity and a high-fat diet, especially loaded with saturated fats, increase the risk of cancer disease. A high intake of dietary fiber, especially insoluble fiber or roughage, promotes regular bowel movements and reduces the risk of suffering from certain cancers. It acts as a natural laxative, moving solid wastes through the intestines. Our body lacks the enzymes to digest this insoluble fiber, present as lignin and cellulose in plant-based foods. This roughage passes as such through the digestive tract, while the nutrients it carries, get absorbed into the body. Fiber either dilutes cancer-causing chemicals or carcinogens in our large intestines or drags the chemical wastes out along with itself before they can have a prolonged contact with the inner lining of our intestines and initiate the process of tumor formation. Both soluble and insoluble fiber have cancer protective benefits. Soluble fiber pulls the toxic chemicals towards itself and absorbs them while the insoluble type aids in accelerating the movement of these toxins or carcinogens out of our intestines. Cereal fiber found in whole wheat bread, pasta, rice, and oats, may help prevent some types of stomach cancer.
How much fiber should you add to your diet
Daily intake of around 25-35 gms of fiber is essential. An excess can interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Increase your intake gradually, and increase your water intake as well, to avoid bloating and cramps.
Fiber content of food items
Cooked dry beans (legumes)
Dark green vegetables
28 gms (1 oz)
Benefits of dietary fiber
- Helps in weight loss.
- Prevents constipation.
- Improves digestion.
- Keeps heart healthy.
- Protects from diabetes.
- Reduces cancer risk.
- Inulin: It is an oligosaccharide polymer of a natural plant sugar fructose, that is found naturally in plant-based foods. Inulin is extracted commercially from chicory roots and Jerusalem artichokes. It is used to replace sugar, fat and flour, and to improve the flow and mixing qualities of powdered nutritional supplements. It supports the growth of friendly bacteria in our intestines and increases the absorption of calcium, magnesium and iron.
- Vegetable gums: Commercially available in powder form, they dissolve easily with no after taste, and are effective for the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. These include guar gum and acacia senegal gum.
Opt for natural food whose fiber content has not been depleted
Tips to increase your fiber intake
- Start gradually. Begin with a high fiber cereal in breakfast, then make other changes in subsequent weeks.
- Choose natural foods such as, fruits and vegetables, whose fiber content has not been depleted through processing.
- Check food labels for fiber content.
- Opt for whole wheat bread, buns, pitas, bagels, and crackers.
- Toss legumes into soups, salads and pasta sauces. Choose bean spreads and dips.
- Some medical conditions do not benefit from a high fiber diet. Elderly or very ill people, those suffering from constipation, vomiting, and abdominal pain should check with their doctor before starting a high-fiber diet.