Fiber health benefits

Fiber health benefits include supporting weight loss, lowering cholesterol, improving digestion and balancing blood sugar.

What is fiber?

Fiber is the indigestible plant matter included in foods that consists of cellulose, pectin, gums, oat and wheat brans, fibers and lignin. These are categorized as soluble or insoluble, according to their physical dissolving properties.

The total amount of fiber in the typical diet is lower than the recommended amount and increasing it is thought to be particularly significant for preventing the disease and health issues closely associated with aging.

Functional fiber includes foods that consist of isolated, nondigestible carbohydrates that have beneficial effects in humans. Forms of functional fiber include chitin, cellulose, beta glucans, oligofructose inulin, fructoligosaccharides, psyllium, lignin, and pectins.

Fiber and aging

Obesity

Obesity and overweight impacts middle-aged and older adults more than other groups, in part because as people age they experience metabolism inefficiencies and are particularly susceptible to sedentary lifestyles.

Fiber health benefits include helping weight loss by regulating hunger.

It works because the textured foods that contain the most fiber require lengthy chewing, which gives the brain enough time to receive satiety signals.

The fiber in food also slows the movement of material through the digestive tract and prevents sugars entering the bloodstream at a rate that would elevate the release of insulin, which results in a fat storage and perpetual hunger cycle.

In 2012, University of Western Ontario researchers compared the dietary habits of an overweight and obese group of individuals to a normal weight group to identify patterns that may contribute to weight gain. The overweight and obese group consumed only 13 g of fiber daily, which was significantly lower than the normal weight group, who consumed 18 g each day.

Cholesterol

Excessive cholesterol in the body is responsible for one-third of all global cases of cardiovascular disease, which has the highest mortality rate compared with other health issues.

Consuming soluble fiber that absorbs and removes excess cholesterol from the digestive tract before it can enter and potentially block blood vessels is an effective way to lower cholesterol.

Soluble fiber food sources include lentils, oats, apples, oranges, pears, nuts, cucumber and flax seeds. Both oats and oat bran have demonstrated in medical trials favorable results in the lowering of LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Digestion

The body’s digestive capacity becomes less effective as people age, with low stomach acid, gastroenteritis and infrequent bowel elimination often occurring.

Insoluble fiber health benefits include regulating stool bulk and hastening colon transit time. Sources of insoluble fiber include bran, nuts, seeds, whole wheat foods and the skin of some fruits and root vegetables.

Improving digestion can make nutrients more available to all of your body’s systems and processes, having far-reaching health benefits.

Diabetes

Diabetes impacts adults older than 65 years old more than any other age group.

Fiber health benefits in relation to diabetes include balancing blood sugar. It slows the entry of sugar into the bloodstream, which relieves the stress that a low-fiber, processed-foods diet places on the pancreas’ insulin production and improves insulin sensitivity.

In a 2010 study review, researchers deduced that the soluble fiber, psyllium, balances blood sugar for diabetes patients.

Chronic inflammation

Chronic inflammation is one of the consequences of aging that left untreated can lead to arthritis, diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease.

In a healthy scenario, inflammation develops at an injury site to signal, protect and heal the wound. But when an accumulation of harmful compounds occurs, resulting from stress, environmental pollution and the overpowering of the body’s natural maintenance processes, for example, it causes a low-grade, nearly undetectable level of inflammation which can persist for years and develop into disease unbeknownst to the sufferer.

Research has shown an inverse relationship between markers of inflammation, such as C-Reactive protein, and a high-fiber diet.

Oxidation

Oxidation is an additional age-related disease precursor, which environmental pollutants and the over-burdening of the body’s natural stores of antioxidants exacerbate.

Healthy cells are damaged when oxygen circulates in the body, and the resulting free radicals are normally neutralized by the body’s antioxidant defense system.

In modern times, however, the sheer high-level load of toxins in the environment resulting from stress increases the number of free radical induced mutations in healthy DNA, which if left untreated replicate and develop disease.

To compensate for the extra oxidative damage, supplementing with dietary or nutraceutical antioxidants is necessary to help prevent disease.

In one study, researchers found 50% of all antioxidants are chemically bonded to fiber in foods.

A high-fiber diet may also assist in preventing against bowel cancer, with studies showing that individuals who eat more fiber have lower bowel cancer risks.

How can I add fiber to my diet?

Dietary sources of fiber include:

Soluble: oat bran, oats, barley, nuts, psyllium, chia seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, apples, pears, and dates.

Insoluble: wheat bran, vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains.

How much fiber should I take?

The average adult consumes only 12-17g of fiber but should consume 25-38g each day.

Gradually incorporating fiber into your diet, instead of all at once can help reduce side effects such as gas or diarrhea. Consume plenty of water, too, otherwise slow waste elimination may result.

Markers of an adequate level of fiber include normal digestion and an intestinal transit time from 12 to 24 hours.

Side effects

Consuming a large quantity of fiber in a short period of time can cause bloating, intestinal gas and abdominal cramps. The beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract require time to adapt to the increase in dietary fiber.

Contraindications

Consuming an amount of dietary or supplemental fiber above the body’s requirements may block the absorption of minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.

Fiber supplements may affect medications such as aspirin, warfarin, and carbamazepine.

They can also alter blood sugar levels, so it might be necessary to alter any insulin or diabetes medications.

References

  1. University of Maryland Medical Center. Fiber. July 22, 2010. http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/002470all.htm
  2. Dharmarajan, T.S. Geriatric Gastroenterology. “Dietary Fiber: Its Role in Older Adults.” February 2003. http://www.practicalgastro.com/pdf/February03/DharmarajanArticle0203.pdf
  3. Weickert, Martin O., et al. The Journal of Nutrition. “Metabolic Effects of Dietary Fiber Consumption and Prevention of Diabetes.” December 8, 2012. ttp://jn.nutrition.org/content/138/3/439.full.pdf+html
  4. Bazzano, Lydia, M.D. Current Atherosclerosis Reports. “Effects of Soluble Dietary Fiber on Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease Risk.” 2008. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11883-008-0074-3?LI=true
  5. World Health Organization. Obesity and Overweight. http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/media/en/gsfs_obesity.pdf
  6. Saura-Calixto, Fulgencio. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. “Dietary Fiber as a Carrier of Dietary Antioxidants: An Essential Physiological Function.” December 10, 2010 http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf1036596
  7. Bajorek, Sarah A. The Annals of Pharmacotherapy. “Effects of Dietary Fiber and Low Glycemic Index Diet on Glucose Control in Subjects with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” November 2012. http://www.theannals.com/content/44/11/1786.short
  8. Ma, Yuncheng. Nutrition. “Association Between Dietary Fiber and Markers of Systemic Inflammation in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study.” October 2008. http://www.nutritionjrnl.com/article/S0899-9007(08)00204-9/abstract
  9. Alfieri, Margaret Anne Hay. Obesity. “Fiber Intake of Normal Weight, Moderately Obese and Severely Obese Subjects.” 1995. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.1550-8528.1995.tb00188.x/abstract
  10. Food Types and Bowel Cancer: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/type/bowel-cancer/about/risks/food-types-and-bowel-cancer

Last reviewed 03/Mar/2017

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Ann-Mary Hromek

Ann-Mary Hromek has twenty years experience in wholistic therapies and specialises in nutritional and environmental medicine. She is an experienced group facilitator and lecturer and an integral part of the ACNEM education team.
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