The health of an individual can be determined in many ways; one can say that one is healthy because there is no pain, or that because blood work is normal, therefore one is healthy. How does one measure health? According to the World Health Organization, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. One important aspect of health comes from the function of the digestive tract. If it is healthy, the potential for wellness is optimal.
The basic function of the digestive tract is the break-down of food, nutrient absorption and the elimination process. Fiber is a component that is vital to digestive function. There are two different types of fiber; soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid, slows digestion, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and builds up the immune system. By decreasing transit time, it slows the absorption of carbohydrates and reduces the rise of blood sugar after a meal thus stabilizing blood sugar and controlling diabetes. By being absorbed into the blood stream it can help lower cholesterol and the low-density lipoproteins (LDL’s). Additionally, it can lower blood pressure and promote the proliferation of the friendly flora. Sources of soluble fiber are oat bran, nuts, seeds, carrots, lentils and fruits such as apples, strawberries, citrus and psyllium.
Insoluble fiber, also known as ‘roughage’, does not break down in the digestive track. Rather it acts as little scrub brushes and aids in the movement of waste through the intestines. It helps promote regularity and prevents constipation. Another benefit of insoluble fiber is its ability to expand in the stomach providing the sense of fullness, plus it has the capacity to absorb fat in the diet. Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber does not absorb water, nor does it get absorbed into the blood stream. It pretty much passes through the digestive track in its original form. Additional benefits of insoluble fiber include a reduction in the risk and occurrence of hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer. By increasing transit time, it reduces the risk of colon cancer by moving toxins and other cancer causing substances.
Sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, with the skins on, legumes, nuts and seeds. In most fiber containing foods there is both soluble and insoluble fiber. Current nutritional labeling does not identify the quantity of soluble vs. insoluble fiber content. By following the recommended 9-10 vegetable servings per day it will help bring the total fiber count to the recommended 25 to 50 grams per day for adults. For children of the age of two and more, the recommendation for fiber is the child’s age plus five.
Often times it is necessary to take a fiber supplement. For example, one tablespoon of freshly ground flax seed is equivalent to 3 grams of fiber that can be stirred into protein drinks, sprinkled on hot oatmeal, brown rice cereal, and/or quinoa for a satisfying, nutritious, filling breakfast.
When increasing the fiber content in your diet, do so gradually to avoid the unpleasantness of bloating and excessive flatulence and be certain to drink plenty of water.
A healthy digestive track is paramount to total health. The benefits of fiber are multifold and health can only improve by becoming mindful of consuming the 25-50 grams of fiber per day.
This information is for educational purposes and is not intended for diagnosis or treatment.