8/03/2022 / Digestive Disease & Gastroenterology

Why is Dietary Fiber important for your digestive health?

Fibers has a host of health benefits including reduced cardiac diseases and better digestion. Read on to know the fiber benefits and also know some of the fiber deficiency diseases.

Why is Dietary Fiber important for your digestive health?
Keerthana A PKeerthana A P

Keerthana A P

Food Technologist, Engineer & Research Associate

Table of Content

Introduction

Gut health determines your overall well being – both physical and mental. Since our today’s world mostly relies on refined carbohydrates and protein shakes, we have almost forgotten the magic ingredient – 'dietary fibers' (British spelling fibre) or 'roughage’. Dietary Fiber is a necessary component for supporting your gut health but almost 95% of the population doesn’t meet their daily fiber requirement. Dietary fiber benefits are abundant considering their various curative and preventive properties. But many people are still not meeting their daily fiber requirements and are in the dark about the importance of dietary fiber in our day-to-day life. Dive in here to know the importance of fibers, daily dietary fiber requirement, fiber benefits, fiber deficiency diseases and fiber deficiency symptoms.

What are the benefits of fibers or roughage?

So, why is fiber important to your diet even though they have very little nutritional value? When we tell ‘dietary fibers’, we usually mean both soluble and insoluble fibers. Soluble fibers are those which are easily soluble in water and form gel-like consistency in intestines. They get fermented by the action of gut bacteria and release some calories on breakdown. Unlike the former, insoluble fibers don’t break down by the action of digestive enzymes and offer no calories. The benefits of dietary fiber differ based on its type.

Benefits of dietary, soluble and insoluble fibres on digestive health

Soluble fiber benefits

1. Lowers cholesterol and fat absorption

The formation of gel-like consistencies in the intestine blocks the absorption of cholesterol and fats which in turn reduces cholesterol levels in your bloodstream. As the cholesterol levels in the blood come down, the risks of strokes and heart attacks also get reduced. 

2. Helps in weight management 

As it blocks the absorption of nutrients in our intestines, digestion gets slower. Slow digestion prevents us from binging and mindless eating. Thus, fibers benefit us in weight management by restricting calories. 

3. Feeds gut bacteria

The gel form of fibers in the intestines gets fermented by the gut bacteria, thereby enriching the gut microbiome. This process releases a few calories and gas. Thus, fibers benefit us here by avoiding any possible invasions by harmful microorganisms. But too much consumption of soluble fibers can cause bloating and gas formations.

Insoluble fiber benefits

1. Reduces constipation

Insoluble fibers absorb fluids and other byproducts while remaining intact in the digestive process. This nature of insoluble fibers facilitates the easy passage of stool. The presence of insoluble fibers can reduce the blockages in the gastrointestinal tract and prevent constipation.  

2. Lowers the risk of diverticular diseases

By helping to prevent constipation, it reduces the risks of colon cancers and hemorrhoids. Thus, insoluble fibers benefit us in maintaining a healthy digestive system

Dietary fiber benefits (both soluble and insoluble)

1. Helps in achieving satiety 

This gets the spotlight among other fiber health benefits! Fiber-rich foods fill up our stomach volume, thereby giving us a feeling of fullness. This reduces snacking and binge eating, thereby helping to prevent obesity and other related diseases. 

2. Lowers the risk of chronic diseases

The health benefits of a fiber-rich diet include reducing chronic lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases

What is your daily fiber requirement?

  • For maintaining a healthy body, ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) has recommended the daily fiber requirement of 40 grams/2000 Kcal. If the fiber intake exceeds more than 60 grams per day, it can curtail nutrient absorption, cause irritable bowel syndrome or even diarrhea. Adding overwhelmingly high amounts of fibers within a short period can cause various health issues. Various fiber benefits stay true to our body only if we strictly follow the prescribed daily dietary requirement of fibers.

  • Sources of high fiber foods include all types of bran cereals, chickpeas, lentils, green peas, flaxseed, spinach, dried figs, kidney beans and pears. The foods that encompass 2-4 grams of fiber per serving include wheat grams, soybeans, apples, carrots, popcorn, almonds, baked potatoes, strawberries, corn, oranges and broccoli. 

Effects of fiber deficiency on our body and digestive system

If we don’t take recommended levels of daily fiber requirements, we can develop many fiber deficiency diseases that can manifest as several health or digestive issues.

1. Constipation

Fiber deficient diets can make bowel movements difficult, thereby increasing constipation. If you are experiencing constipation, try adding more fruits, vegetables and legumes to your diet.  

2. Poor weight management 

As discussed earlier, fiber benefits weight management by boosting satiety. Lack of fiber in our diets can make us consume more foods than is required by our body. Overeating for a long period can cause obesity and other related illnesses. Or if the fiber deficiency diet causes extreme illnesses, it can lead to unintentional weight loss due to poor directions.

Overweight and Obesity

3. Fatigue

Diets rich in proteins and carbohydrates but lacking in fibre can make us feel weak, tired and dizzy in the long run. To avoid this, try to add fibres to your diet even if you follow a keto diet. And don’t ever depend on supplements for fibres, only take whole fruits and vegetables! 

4. Diarrhea

A fiber deficient diet can deprive the gut microorganisms of prebiotics – complex nutrients that assist the growth of good bacteria in the digestive systems. This can cause the pathogenic microorganisms to cause digestive disorders like diarrhea. 

5. Risk of chronic diseases

Reducing our fiber intake can cause the downfall of our overall health, thereby increasing the risks of cardiovascular diseases, obesity and cancers.  

Heart Disease

6. Hemorrhoids

 Hemorrhoids refer to the swollen veins in the rectum and anus which causes severe pain while pushing or straining a bowel movement. If you ever find blood in your stools, it may indicate the severe condition of hemorrhoids and it requires immediate medical attention. 

7. Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition where the intestines become extra sensitive to certain foods while manifesting symptoms like cramps, diarrhea and bloating. Fiber-rich foods like bran and whole grains can reduce the symptoms of IBS. 

When to see a gastroenterologist doctor?

If the fiber deficiency in your diet is extremely high, you can develop more severe symptoms of fiber deficiency diseases. In such cases, it's worth consulting with your gastroenterologist or a stomach specialist doctor who can analyze your health condition. Some of the most common severe symptoms which require immediate medical assistance are,

  • Painful bloating accompanied by bloody stools and nausea

  • Pain while swallowing foods

  • Heartburns

  • Chronic constipation/diarrhea for more than three days

  • Intense burning sensation in the upper abdomen while having acidic foods

  • Stools containing blood/pus or even having coloured stools which are black/tarry

  • Rectal bleeding

  • Unexplained/unintentional weight loss

Take home points

  • Fibers are essential parts of our diet even though they lack nutritional value. The fiber benefits differ based on their solubility – namely soluble and insoluble fibers. 

  • Soluble fibers benefit us by lowering cholesterol, reducing fat absorption and serving prebiotics to the gut microbiome while insoluble fibers benefit us in weight management and digestive health. 

  • The daily fiber requirement is 40grams per 2000Kcal. If this exceeds, it may cause several digestive and stomach issues. 

  • Having the standard daily fiber requirement of 40 grams, men and women should aim for at least 21 to 25 and 30 to 38 grams respectively. 

  • Even though the fiber benefits are boundless, too much of it can block nutrient absorption and cause gas formations. 

  • If we don’t realize the importance of fibers in our diet, we may suffer from fiber deficiency diseases like constipation, obesity, diarrhea, cardiac illnesses, hemorrhoids and irritable bowel syndrome.


FAQ on Dietary Fiber for digestive health?

1. What is the best fiber for gut bacteria?

Ans. Soluble fiber benefits are higher than insoluble fibers for the enrichment of gut bacteria. This is due to the gel formation of soluble fibers which are great foods to our intestinal microbiota. 

2. What are soluble and insoluble fibers?

Ans. Insoluble fibers differ from soluble fibers by their ability to pass down the gastrointestinal tract without any disintegration from digestive enzymes. The health benefits of fiber vary based on its solubility along the gastrointestinal tract. 

3. Does fiber remove toxins from blood?

Ans. Fibers facilitate the easy movement of bowel contents, therefore anything harmful gets eliminated from our body very quickly.  If you don’t add enough fibers, these toxic substances stay in the colon, get fermented and get absorbed into the body. 

4. Do fibers affect the liver?

Ans. Fiber helps in protecting the liver from inflammations and helps in detoxing it. So, adding high fiber foods can never disrupt your liver function. 

5. Is fiber a carbohydrate?

Ans. Dietary fibers are a type of complex carbohydrates which don’t spike your blood sugar levels. That’s why the benefits of dietary fibers extend to people with diabetes or high blood pressure.

6. Should you avoid fibers when we feel bloated?

Ans. It's better to avoid fiber-rich foods when you are bloated because the consumption of dietary fibers, especially soluble fibers, can aggravate your bloating. 

7. When should you avoid fiber-rich foods?

Ans. Though the benefits of fiber are plentiful, it's not good to take them in larger quantities in a single meal. When getting started with the high fiber, it is better to take it slow as it can cause possible gastric issues. 

8. What diseases can be reduced by a high fiber diet?

Ans. Due to the various health benefits of fibers, it can reduce the risks of various diseases like diabetes, heart attacks, ulcers and cancers

9. Why is fiber important to your digestive health?

Ans. Fibers are the fuel to the colon and good gut bacteria. They help in easing bowel movements and also serve as a prebiotic to the gut microbiota. 


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