Reviewed by: Sonali Kulkarni, Lead Nutritionist, Elda Health
What is dietary fiber and why is it so important for us?
To put it simply - Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods that we eat. It has been consumed for centuries and is associated with health benefits. You may have known that dietary fiber has 0 calories but do you know that it has great nutritive value and health benefits for us?
So, if we cannot digest it, how does it provide us with nutrition and give us health benefits?! And why is it recommended in a healthy diet?
Because fiber, even though it passes through a large part of our digestive system, primarily our large intestine, as it is, without being digested, it gives us its health benefits while doing so! It acts like a broom or brush helping to clean the digestive track and is one of the most indispensable parts of a healthy diet.
Foods that have a high fiber content contain lesser amounts of sodium, which in turn has a positive effect on our health, as it decreases the incidence of several metabolic and other diseases.
Here are some more benefits of Dietary Fiber:
- It slows down digestion of sugary foods and simple carbs thus helping in regulation of blood sugar levels.
- It lowers the levels of bad cholesterol.
- Because it fills your stomach and gives satiety without eating too many calories, it helps in regulating body weight and aids in weight loss.
- It increases the bulk of stool, acts as a binder and softens it, thereby preventing constipation and helping in regulating bowel movements.
- It acts as a prebiotic because it acts as food for good gut bacteria, or the gut microbiome, in the colon and thus contributes to gut health.
- Fiber is known to prevent some types of cancers as well. It cleans out the gut which in turn reduces the risk of colon cancer.
Dietary fiber can either be of the insoluble or soluble type. All food products made from refined flour have the latter. But the insoluble type of fiber is what provides us with the most health benefits. And we get this insoluble fiber basically from plant sources and so it is important to include a wide variety of plant foods in your diet to reap their benefits.
Some fiber-rich foods are:
- Whole grains and millets like brown rice, wheat, oats, quinoa, corn, ragi, sorghum. Start your day with cereals that contain whole grains. Have brown rice instead of white, for lunch; go back to your culture and have that ragi or sorghum or bajra roti once in a while!
- Fruits like bananas, apples, papayas, kiwis, guavas and berries. Remember, it is always better to consume whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices. This way you get more fiber in your diet.
- Vegetables like cucumber, moringa, beans, broccoli, radish, beetroot, sweet corn, carrots, peas, pumpkin, sweet potatoes.Think of these and other green leafy and fruit vegetables as a healthy snack and have them during your ‘down’ times like 4.00 pm in the middle of a busy workday.
- Flax seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds. If the idea of munching on seeds doesn’t appeal to you, you can try adding them to your salads, soups and stir fry veggies or even your breakfast cereals or smoothies. Keep a jar full of them as easy reach so that you can grab some whenever you’re peckish.
- Legumes, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, mushrooms, soy etc are commonly known for their high protein content. But these are not only great sources of proteins, but are also an excellent source of fiber. But the main part that contains the fiber is the skin of these legumes and lentils! So make sure you consume them with their skin!
How much fiber do we need?
Women going through midlife need to consume at least 30 gms of fiber each day. This comes to approximately 5 and a half cups of fruits and vegetables. Add a couple of servings of whole grains and you’re good to go!
So add these fiber-friendly foods to your grocery list. Remember, if you eat rough, you stay healthy!