What is Fiber?

Fiber gives plants their strength and structure and is unable to be digested by humans. Fiber can be found in grains, cereals, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Psyllium husk, which is derived from a plant grown in India, is another source of fiber. Meat, fish, and milk products do not contain any fiber.

Benefits of Increased Fiber on the Following Conditions

  • Constipation – by creating more bulk and softer, well-formed stools, it helps the bowel system function more naturally. It improves symptoms of constipation and reduces the need for habit forming, stimulant laxatives.
  • Hemorrhoids – by reducing the need to strain during elimination of stool, it reduces irritation to hemorrhoids.
  • Diverticular Disease – reduces the episodes of constipation alternating with diarrhea and resulting discomfort in the lower left abdomen.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome – reduces abdominal discomfort and allows the muscles of the colon to relax resulting in more consistent bowel movements.
  • Cardiovascular Disease – increasing soluble fiber intake along with decreasing fat intake has been shown to reduce blood levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol).
  • Diabetes – in people with Type 2 diabetes, increased intake of soluble fiber improves glycemic control and decreases plasma lipid concentrations.

Two Types of Fiber

The two types of fiber are insoluble and soluble fiber. Most sources of fiber contain a mixture of both of these types of fiber.

  • Soluble Fiber – absorbs water and becomes bulky in the stomach, it works throughout the intestinal tract
    • increases bowel motility and enhances transit through the intestinal tract
    • benefits include decreasing the incidence of colon cancer, maintains healthy blood cholesterol levels, improves diabetic control, and weight control
    • Sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal and oat bran, psyllium, dried beans, peas, lentils, fruits, most vegetables
  • Insoluble Fiber – absorbs water and adds bulk in the colon
    • improves transit time of fecal material within the colon
    • sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, whole grains, apples, pears, strawberries, and tomatoes

What is the Recommended Amount of Dietary Fiber?

A standard recommended daily allowance for dietary fiber has not been established. Recommendations from the National Cancer Institute are to consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily.

Most people consume 10 to 15 grams of dietary fiber daily and find it difficult to reach the 25 to 35 grams goal. In addition to eating foods high in fiber, many people require the use of a fiber supplement to reach their fiber goal.

What is the Best Way to Increase Dietary Fiber?

It is recommended to decrease fat intake along with increasing the amount of daily dietary fiber to promote bowel health. Dietary fiber can be increased through diet alone or through diet and use of fiber supplements. It is important to SLOWLY increase dietary fiber as increasing it too much all at once can lead to bloating, flatulence (gas) and/or cramping. When diet changes are made gradually it allows your body to adjust easily and your digestive system will work as intended. It is important to ensure you are drinking plenty of water, 8 glasses of water per day, while consuming a high fiber diet to prevent constipation.

Fiber Supplements

There are many forms of fiber supplements. Most of them recommended by your doctor will be a psyllium-containing supplement. There are many options to choose from and your doctor can assist you in choosing the best for your needs. Fiber supplements are not like chemical or stimulant laxatives in that they are all natural, are bowel normalizers, and will not cause you to have sudden or unexpected bowel movements. Fiber supplements will allow your body to eliminate waste in a pattern normal for you with less straining.