Ingredients Series: What is Fiber? Why eat Fiber?

Posted 6.15.10 | Nutrition Specialist

There has been a lot of buzz lately about the benefits of dietary fiber and the need to eat more. So, what is dietary fiber anyways? Dietary fiber is a complex carbohydrate that is not completely digested in your body. Unlike other food components such as fats, proteins or other carbohydrates that get completely broken down and absorbed in your body, dietary fiber passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, colon and out of your body. So it might seem like fiber does not do much, but it has several important roles in maintaining health.

Why eat fiber? While fiber has no nutritional value, it can have a big impact on health, lowering the risk for certain cancers, lowering cholesterol and minimizing the complications of diabetes. Also, it may aid with appetite control since it expands after you eat it and is more filling. In general, good sources of fiber include many fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole wheat breads, and fiber rich cereals.

Insoluble & Soluble Fibers

Fiber can be classified into two categories: soluble and insoluble. The two categories differ because of their ability to bond with water molecules. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel substance which slows digestion. Soluble fiber (such as gums & pectin) molecules are able to pick up water as they pass through the digestive system. It is then broken down in the colon by bacterial flora. Research shows that soluble fiber lowers cholesterol and delays glucose absorption.

Insoluble fiber(such as cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin) does not dissolve in water. It is not digestible and passes through the digestive system rapidly and intact. This helps to increase bowel movements and improves constipation. In addition to being able to bond with water, fiber molecules also bond with substances such as hormones, bile acids and potential carcinogens and help to carry them through and out of your digestive system. Because of this, fiber plays an important role that benefits you.

Most adults and children do not get enough fiber and usually take some form of supplement to meet daily fiber needs. Usually eating a variety of enriched fiber foods can help you meet the daily fiber requirements. But for some children with food allergies this can be difficult because of their limited diet. Neocate Junior with Prebiotics is a good option to help boost the fiber in their diets.

Is your family getting enough fiber in their diets? What are some of your favorite fiber-rich foods?

- Renee

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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.