The Fuss over Dietary Fiber

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Commonly found in fruits, grains and vegetables, dietary fiber is a key component of a healthy diet, adding bulk and aiding digestion.

Also called “roughage,” fiber helps make the stomach feel full and assists the body in the disposal of waste.

Our bodies are capable of using up all the protein, fats and carbs from the food we ingest. Fiber, on the other hand, cannot be easily digested and usually ends up passing through just as it was originally consumed, bringing along unwanted waste with it.

In this way, fiber acts like a broom, effectively cleaning up the stomach, colon and small intestine, and playing a primary role in maintaining overall digestive health.

Fiber can be classified in two categories: those that do not dissolve in water are called “insoluble fiber,” and those that actually do dissolve in it are labeled “soluble fiber.” The latter form turns into a gel-like state to be better utilized by the body; food examples include oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and peas.

Apart from normalizing bowel movements, a high fiber diet can help lower blood cholesterol levels, control blood sugar levels, possibly prevent some types of cancer and aid in weight loss.

On the negative side, too much fiber intake can lower the rate of absorption of certain vital minerals, notably iron, zinc, copper, magnesium and especially calcium. The lack of these nutrients can result in stunted growth among children or the rapid deterioration of bone mass in some adults.

Fiber supplements are now readily available commercially. Bran and cellulose tablets are quite popular. Psyllium powder, which is marketed as a stool softener, is another form of fiber supplement recommended for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Of course, it is a good idea to consult with a dietary expert before ingesting such substances regularly. And instead of taking fiber supplements, it’s always best to eat naturally fiber-rich foods, including whole grains, vegetables and some fruits on the order of 20~35 grams per day.

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