What’s Fiber Got to Do with It?

[donotprint] Fiber has been getting quite a lot of press lately.

The most recent media attention was drawn to it as part of the new series of Food Hospital on Channel 4 were they created their Fiber challenge. The idea behind it was for people to increase their fiber intake and take note of the changes of not only their bowel movements but how they felt in general.

Talking about bowels, constipation and related disorders is still a bit of a taboo subject, one which needs to be broken down and spoken about more openly without the embarrassment that is associated. This I feel is a large contributing factor to increase in bowel related disorders and cancers which might have been otherwise treated had the early signs, symptoms or risk factors had have been dealt with.

Potty Talk: A Primer on Bowel Movements and Digestive Health

Aside from the obvious movement of our bowels the importance of including adequate amounts of fiber in our diet are extensive.

Importance of Fiber

Fiber as many of us know is vital to ensure we maintain healthy bowel function. But I suppose the message we’re missing is what’s so important about going to the toilet regularly aside from the discomfort…

  • Chronic Constipation can lead to diseases of the bowel including diverticulitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, haemorrhoids…among others.
  • If waste remains in the large intestine it will become a breading ground for bad bacteria which is likely to weaken the immune system and your energy levels are likely to drop; leaving your feeling lethargic.
  • Prolonged faecal bulk in the large intestine provides ample opportunity for carcinogens (substances that cause cancer,either from the diet or bacteria) to interact with the intestinal walls.
  • Fiber plays a key role in binding to unhealthy fats and LDL cholesterol, preventing its reabsorption in to the body.

Other Fiber Health Benefits

  • Eating meals rich in fiber will help slow down digestion, leaving you feeling fuller for longer, without having to take in excess calories; they are considered high satiety inducing foods! (Prevent yourself from having to raid the cookie jar!Smile)
  • Fiber is thought to help reduce the toxic effect of heavy metals and pesticides.
  • Phytochemicals in grains and pulses (dietary fiber is a phytochemical) have been shown moderate glucose and insulin responses (regulating blood sugar balance).
  • Helps to build the cells that line the gut which keep it healthy.

How much is enough?

The average intake in the UK is 22 grams is no were near enough. A minimum of 35 grams is recommended however it’s worth considering that in rural Africa they eat on average about 55 grams a day and have the lowest incidence of bowel diseases. It’s not that it is particularly difficult to take in this amount, that is once you have a diet rich in beans, peas, legumes, nuts, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables. Obviously diets which focus heavily on protein or largely refined and processed foods are likely to be lacking in this vital nutrient.


Good Sources of Fiber

Fiber is only found in Plant Foods! They include all those mentioned above. I know the thing that perplexes people is how do they know if they’re getting enough? Here is a list of some commonly eaten quite high fiber foods and the quantity of fiber in them per serving so you can get a bit of an idea.

  • Raspberries, 1 cup = 8 grams (top of the berries in terms of fiber content!)
  • Pear, with skin, 1 medium = 5.5 grams
  • Banana, 1 medium= 3.1 grams
  • Raisins, 2 tablespoons = 1 gram
  • Prunes, 1/4 cup (dried) = 3 grams
  • Spaghetti, whole- wheat cooked per 1 cup = 6.2 grams
  • Pearled Barley cooked per 1 cup = 6 grams
  • Oats, 1/2 a cup uncooked = 5 grams
  • Oat bran, 1/2 cup uncooked = 8 grams
  • Chickpeas, 1 cup cooked = 5 grams
  • Quinoa, 1/4 cup uncooked = 6 grams
  • Almonds, 1oz (30g) = 4 grams
  • Broccoli cooked, 1 cup = 4 grams
  • Carrot cooked, 1 cup = 5 grams
  • Kale cooked, 1 cup = 7 grams
  • Winter Squash, 1 cup cooked = 6 grams
  • Whole wheat bread per slice = 2 grams

In America fiber is listed as part of the total carbohydrates on food labels, which is then further broken down in to sugar and fiber. In Europe fiber is listed seperately. Either way it’s quite easily distinguished. Just remember to check whether or not it’s listed per serving (and also what is that serving size) or it could be per 100g or per cup.

Soluble and Insoluble Fibre

There are two different types of fiber and majority of plant foods tend to provide both.

Soluble fiber is as the name suggests…. it’s soluble in water.

It helps slow down the rate of digestion, allowing you to feel fuller for longer and is the fiber which plays a role in binding to unhealthy fats and LDL cholesterol. Top sources include oats, oat bran, barley, beans and the flesh of fruit and vegetables.

Insoluble fiber….is insoluble in water.

It’s responsible for building bulk in the intestines and preventing constipation. It therefore plays a role in keeping the intestinal tract clean. It also helps you to feel fuller for longer, balancing blood sugar and leaving you with a greater sense of satiety after you meal. Insoluble fiber is found more commonly in the skins of fruits and vegetables as well cereals, wheat, bran and nuts.

What’s considered normal bowel behaviour?

Ideally we should empty our bowels at least once a day. Food takes between 24 – 36  hours from when it’s ingested to reach the large intestine ready to be excreted as waste.

People become accustomed to their own bowel behaviour and it has become quite common for people to consider not having a bowel movement for 3 or 4 days, or having to strain to do so.

A bowel movement should be soft and easy to pass. You should watch out for a change in bowel movements and the consistency of the stool. Blood in the stool is never normal; the rule of thumb would be if a bowel movement causes you discomfort continually or you have unexplained changes you should consult your doctor or herbalist.

Treatment for Constipation

  • Flaxseeds are particularly high in insoluble fiber and are a fantastic natural remedy to ease constipation; creating bulk in the intestine. The seeds must be milled/ground and can be added to smoothies, oats, cereal or mixed in to your already cooked food.  2 tablespoons a day is recommended to relieve and prevent constipation. It’s important to drink a glass of water after eating flaxseed to ensure the colon has enough water to move the waste material out.
  • Psyllium husks are also quite commonly used to alleviate constipation. These should be mixed with water during or after a meal and it’s also important to remember to drink plenty of water while taking them.  1 to 2 teaspoons a day, or 10 grams total, mixed with water is the recommended dose.
  • It’s also important to chew your food properly to allow it to pass more easily through the digestive system.
  • Get moving; exercise can help to stimulate bowel movements! People with a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to suffer.

There are obviously many over the counter and prescribed medications. If you are suffering from chronic constipation which hasn’t be alleviated by increasing your fiber intake and ensuring your taking in enough liquid you should see a registered practitioner. I highly recommend seeing a herbalist and considering colonic irrigation having had treatments in the past myself.

It’s important to note that lack of fiber in the diet may not be the only cause of constipation, though increasing it should help alleviate symptoms in most cases. Medicines, changes to routine, stress, laxative abuses, hormonal changes , lack of exercise, lack of fluid and pregnancy can all have an impact on our transition time!

Have you any thoughts to share? Any experiences of your own or interesting facts about fiber?

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  1. This was so interesting! You’re great at breaking science down into something that’s easily understood. I’ll definitely start adding flaxseeds to more meals now!

  2. this is a dumb question, but what does soluble and insoluble mean? soluble dissolves in water and insoluble doesn’t?