Many persons across the globe suffer from digestive problems and irregular bowel habits, which many of us do not like to express or discuss with anyone. Bowel health is very important for the overall physical and mental wellbeing of a person. The most common reason for poor digestion and bowel health in this present era is the consumption of refined foods or fast foods which lack essential nutrients and fiber.
To improve digestion and normal bowel movements, our diet should be enriched with foods with good nutrients and fiber. Dietary fiber is also known as roughage or bulk, which is a part of plant foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which cannot break down like other foods like carbohydrates, fats, or proteins.
A high fiber diet helps to keep the digestive system healthy by improving digestion, regularising bowel movements, and softening the stool for easy passing of stool which prevents constipation and helps in providing the body with essential nutrients. Dietary fiber also helps to reduce weight, decrease the risk for heart problems, strokes, diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, and cancers.
What Are the Features and Forms of Dietary Fiber?
- Dietary fiber known as roughage or bulk is the undigested part of the plants, formed in the digestive system, and forms the bulk of the stool.
- Fiber is part of the carbohydrate food that does not increase the blood sugars but is the undigested part, that cannot be broken down during the digestion process, and is formed from the layers, membranes, or peels of grains, fruits, and vegetables which we usually discard in the diet.
- Dietary fiber depending on its consistency and function is classified into soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
- Soluble Fibre: is a type of fiber that dissolves in water to form a gel-like consistency or substance which helps digestion and bowel health. It is found in foods such as oats, barley, beans, peas, carrots apples, and oranges. It helps to:
- Helps to support good bacteria in the gut and helps to maintain a healthy gut.
- It helps to make you feel fuller and reduces hunger.
- It slows down the absorption of glucose from the intestine to the bloodstream and helps in reducing blood sugar levels thus helping management of diabetes.
- Soluble fiber reduces the absorption of cholesterol by binding to it in the gut.
- Insoluble Fibre: is a type of fiber that does not dissolve in water and increases the bulk of the stool and promotes normal bowel movements who have irregular bowel habits or constipation. It is found in foods such as whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, whole bread, nuts, vegetables like cauliflower, and green leafy vegetables. It is important to take water, as fiber absorbs water and makes the stool smooth and soft for easy elimination of the stool.
How Does Fiber Help Digestion and Bowel Health?
- Insoluble fiber moves the stool through the stomach and the intestine at a faster pace which aids digestion and prevents constipation.
- Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of the stool, softens the stool, makes the stool easier to pass through the digestive tract, and gets eliminated smoothly.
- When the stool gets loose or watery as in diarrhea, the fiber helps to solidify the stool as it absorbs the water and increases the bulk of the stool.
- The fiber in the gut helps in the proper digestion of foods as it improves good bacteria in the gut flora.
- Fiber helps to decrease gastric acidity and flatulence, thus improving digestion and gut health.
Benefits of High Fiber Diet
- Helps probiotics known as good bacteria to flourish in the gut which helps digestion and prevents bowel infections.
- As a high fiber diet makes you feel fuller for longer time, extra hunger decreases and makes you eat less helping to reduce weight.
- Helps to reduce gastric acidity and gastroesophageal reflux disease. (GERD).
- The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can be reduced by controlling the frequent bowel movements and decreasing constipation with a high-fiber diet.
- Bowel infections such as diverticulitis a condition where the pouches in the colon trap the waste and get inflamed can be prevented with a high fiber diet.
- As a high fiber diet helps to prevent or reduce constipation, it can decrease the risk of developing bowel disorders like hemorrhoids (piles), bowel infections like colitis and colorectal cancers.
- Diet with high fiber content help in reducing fat absorption from the gut and decreases the cholesterol levels in the body.
- High fiber diets can lower the risk for cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes, hypertension, and bowel cancers.
What Should Be the Daily Intake of Dietary Fiber?
- The daily intake of dietary fiber is usually followed what is recommended by the American heart association, which is 25 grams to 30 grams per day.
- As per age, the daily intake of fiber is recommended such as:
- Women under 50 yrs – 21-25 grams per day
- Men under 50 yrs – 30-38 grams per day
- Children below 18 yrs – 14-31 grams per day
Best Foods Rich in Fiber
There are a variety of foods rich in dietary fiber such as:
- Lentils – Beans, Peas, Chickpeas, Kidney beans.
- Whole Grain Cereals – Oatmeal, Brown rice, Jowar, Ragi, Maize, Green gram, Whole wheat, whole grain bread.
- Seeds – Flax seeds, Chia seeds, and fenugreek seeds.
- Nuts – Peanuts, Walnuts, Popcorn, Almonds.
- Dried Fruits – Prunes, Apricots, Raisins, Dates, and plum.
- Fruits – Banana, Apple, and Pear with skin, Guava, Strawberries, Blueberries, and Raspberries.
- Vegetables – Broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots, and Green leafy vegetables.
What Are Fiber Supplements?
- Though the best way is to get fiber from the diet naturally, sometimes it is difficult and so taking fiber supplements becomes necessary to help digestion and relieve constipation.
- Fiber supplements usually contain 1 to 2 soluble and insoluble fibers, which help to soften the stools and restore normal bowel movements in a person suffering from constipation, and gives relief to the person from passing hard and dry stools.
- Fiber supplements are available as powders that can be mixed in water or food, as chewable tablets and wafers.
- Fiber supplements should be taken in small amounts initially and gradually increase to avoid symptoms like abdominal pain or bloating and drink plenty of water.
- Fiber supplements will not have any nutrients.
Does Suddenly Shifting to High Fibre Diet Cause Any Problems?
- It is better to add fiber to the diet gradually through food sources and daily intake of fiber to be as per the recommended daily doses.
- The sudden inclusion of high fiber foods or supplements in diet can cause abdominal pain and an increase in flatulence which can cause distress to the person.
- Sometimes, absorption of certain minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium may get affected with a high fiber diet.
- An increase in water intake is essential when increasing the fiber in the diet, as the stool can get hard and dry and a person can develop difficulty in passing stools.
Dietary fiber can be included in the diet with foods containing fiber and without increasing the calories. This will help digestion, improve bowel health and maintain a normal healthy weight. Eating a high-fiber diet keeps you full, decreases hunger, helps digestion, increases stool bulk, softens the stools, improves bowel movements, helps to lose weight, and improves overall health.
Most of us do not take enough fiber in the diet and so need to include foods with high fiber for good digestion, healthy bowel habits, decrease the risk for bowel cancers and prevent bowel disorders which can affect the wellbeing of a person. An important point to remember is to take plenty of water when you increase fiber in diets, as fiber absorbs water and makes the stool soft and bulky which can pass out smoothly.