What Is Fiber in Food

Updated on January 9, 2019
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Chris enjoys baking, cooking, grilling, and experimenting in general. Come enjoy these delicious morsels, learn something, and have fun.

The Basics on Fiber

Fiber is probably one of the most misunderstood topics when it comes to food. Several of the top questions in regards to fiber are:

  • What is dietary fiber?
  • What is soluble fiber?
  • What is insoluble fiber?
  • What is added fiber?
  • Why does fiber make you fart?

These questions make it apparent that people are looking for basic answers when it comes to fiber and what it is. We will answer these questions, giving examples of what foods we are talking about to help clarify.

Finishing with some general information that should help one understand how to incorporate fiber into a diet and dissipate some confusion on fiber and how it is associated with an overall diet plan.

What is Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber is a substance from plants which you consume. Dietary fiber can be categorized into soluble and insoluble fiber. Dietary fiber helps move food through the intestines, adds bulk to ones diet, is beneficial to digestion and sugar absorption rate, helps weight, prevents constipation, and makes one feel fuller faster.

If increasing dietary fiber to a diet, increase fiber intake slowly to prevent gas, bloating, and cramping. Common effects from a sudden increase in fiber. Nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables are all good sources for fiber.

What is Soluble Fiber

Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that can be dissolved in water and/or the stomach and gastrointestinal tract, becoming gelatin-like substance. This slows digestion down and makes the consumer feel full. This substance can be digested by bacteria in the digestion tract. A balance is required in consuming enough soluble fiber to feed healthy and beneficial bacteria that aid in digestion but not too much to create gas, cramping, and bloating. This is the reason that slowly increasing intake of fiber is strongly suggested.

Soluble fiber help lower blood glucose and generally speaking help diabetics maintain their blood glucose levels better than those not consuming recommended levels of soluble fiber per day. As a side note, soluble fiber is also helpful for diarrhea because it absorbs water out of the stomach and intestines and slows the movement through the digestive tract.

Most common fiber supplements are soluble fiber, such as Metamucil. Soluble fiber supplements are often psyllium fiber, which is also called ispaghula, and is made from a seed husk. Approximately 70% of psyllium is soluble fiber.

What is Insoluble Fiber

Insoluble fiber is fiber that does not dissolve in water. This is a fiber that actually speeds up the movement through the stomach and intestines and helps with constipation issues and bulking up the stool. The reason that insoluble fiber is called bulk-forming is because the fiber adds to the bulk of the waste in the colon and since it is not soluble the mass doesn't only get bigger it remains looser and softer. This is the process of speeding up the digestive tract and making a person more regular in their bowel movements.

With the fiber not being effected by water, it acts as a mild scrub brush within the digestive tract as well. Pushing some bacteria and other build up through the intestines to be removed from the body, helping to regulate the internal ecosystem of bacteria and waste.

What is Added Fiber

Added fiber was reinvented in 2016 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed the definition of dietary fiber, this changed what would count of nutrition labels. And with the addition of that dietary fiber needed to be "beneficial physiological effect on human health," only 7 of the 26 fibers that were added for fiber could continue to be used. The seven added fibers are as follows:

  • Beta-glucan soluble fiber, also called oat bran fiber
  • Psyllium husk: a soluble fiber that may relieve constipation and help with diarrhea
  • Cellulose: a non-soluble fiber that helps you to feel full, so you eat less
  • Guar gum: a soluble fiber that is often used as a thickener in foods
  • Pectin: a water-soluble fiber often added to jams and jellies
  • Locust bean gum: also known as carob gum, a thickening agent found in sauces and cereals
  • Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose: a soluble fiber that is found in some gluten-free foods

Since added fiber is generally added to processed food, one may want to gravitate or continue to consume whole foods. These added fibers may be approved, but there are disputes as to how healthy they actually are. An added fiber is simply an addition source of fiber that is added to food, as long as they meet the definition as defined by the FDA they may be natural, semi-synthetic, or synthetic.

Why Does Fiber Make You Fart

Fiber that makes you fart is called fermentable fiber. This is because the bacteria in the digestive system consume the fiber and carbon dioxide and hydrogen are left as a byproduct. If the body is not completing this process effectively then the gas can build-up quickly and a person may pass gas. Cramping and bloating may also be felt because of this process.

Source

General Information About Fiber

One of the issues with nutrition labels, is that even though fiber isn't digested its sugar and carbohydrate content is added to the total label. And to clarify the statement, there are portions of a food that may be digested but the fiber portion cannot be. Therefore the fiber portion that is not digested is still counted on the nutritional label and may skew your actual diet. This is information that should be looked into more if you are serious about reading labels.

The suggest amount of fiber for an individual diet increases with age. An adult female is around 25 grams a day and an adult male is around 38 grams per day. The average American consumes 5 grams of fiber a day. With our store bought juices the pulp is generally strained and removes the vast majority of fiber. This is the same for many of our foods. Try replacing a portion of flour in recipes with whole grain flour to add some fiber into the diet and look tips to increase fiber intake up. The overall average for fiber is 31.1 grams per day, the average American only consumes 15 grams on average. Less than 3% consume 31.1 grams of fiber per day. 3% is the percentage of Americans that do not eat enough protein per day as an interesting comparison.

When many sites list a food as either soluble or insoluble, they are generalizing. Most foods contain a portion of both, research this more if you are looking into fiber for bowel movement issues or talk to a Gastrointestinal Specialist if a general Medical Doctor can not help. An example of what I am saying is as follows:

Multiple times I have seen barley listed as a soluble fiber, but in 6 grams of barley 1.5 grams is soluble and 4.5 grams is insoluble.

Many foods are like this, so generalizing may cause a person to become constipated or have diarrhea if they are having issues or borderline already. If increasing fiber levels, be sure to drink extra water while reaching the desired intake. Many basic diets or healthy eating changes include increasing fiber consumption, an great example would is "Fat Loss Diet Plan for Men and Women".

References:

Chart of high-fiber foods. November 17, 2018. Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.mayoclinic.org.

Crichton-Stuart, Cathleen. September 21, 2018. High-fiber foods for a healthy diet. Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com.

Dietary Fiber. (n.d.) Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://medlineplus.gov.

Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. November 16, 2018. Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.mayoclinic.org.

Fiber. (n.d.) Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu.

Frey, Malia. May 17, 2018. Different Ways to Get More Fiber in Your Diet: Does Added Fiber Count? Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.verywellfit.com.

Greger, Michael. September 29, 2015. Where Do Your Get Your Fiber? Retrieved from https://nutritionfacts.org.

Gunnars, Kris. August 10, 2018. 22 High-Fiber Foods You Should Eat. Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.healthline.com.

How Does Fiber Affect Blood Glucose Level? (n.d.) Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.joslin.org.

Huizen, Jennifer. August 31, 2017. Soluble and insoluble fiber: What is the difference? Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com.

Kerns, Michelle. December 14, 2018. What Is Viscous Fiber? Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://healthyeating.sfgate.com.

Leech, Joe. October 26, 2018. Fiber Can Help You Lose Weight - But Only A Specific Kind. Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.healthline.com.

Magee, Elaine. (n.d.) Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: Why Carbohydrates Matter to You. Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.webmd.com.

Physiological Effects of Dietary Fibre. (n.d.) Retrieved 12/18/2018 from http://www.fao.org.

Why Fiber Is So Good For You. (n.d.) Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org.

Your Questions Answered. (n.d.) Retrieved December 17, 2018 from https://fiberfacts.org.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Chris Andrews

    Comments

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      • m-a-w-g profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Andrews 

        4 weeks ago from Ohio

        Researching fiber showed me just how little I knew. I am glad that I had a discussion earlier in the day with an individual who had just had bariatrics surgery and it made me want to know more. I appreciate that you took the time to read the article.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks for all this good-to-know information. Noe we can talk about (and use) fiber more intelligently

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