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Laiba Kazmi


Hilal Her

Dietary Fiber: Why It Is Beneficial for You

April 2024

Dietary fiber, commonly referred to as roughage or bulk, encompasses the indigestible components of plant-based diets that cannot be absorbed by the body. Contrary to lipids, proteins, and carbs, which are broken down and absorbed by the body, fiber is not digested by the body. Instead, it traverses your stomach, small intestine, and colon with minimal alteration before being expelled from your body. Dietary fiber has a wide array of health-related benefits. However, due to the changes in dietary patterns in the last few decades, the consumption of dietary fiber has been reduced significantly due to various factors, such as easy availability and preferred intake of processed foods that contain little to no fiber.

Dietary fiber is present in a variety of foods such as cereals, fruits, and vegetables. Cereals are the most abundant source of dietary fiber. Fibers are broadly classified as soluble and insoluble fiber. Sources of dietary fiber include fruits (such as bananas, apples, oranges, pears, peaches, and berries), vegetables (including carrots, baked beans, broccoli, raw lettuce, tomato, corn, and potato), whole wheat bread and oatmeal, beans such as lime beans, kidney beans, black bean nuts, and chickpeas. Psyllium husk, also known as ‘Isphagol’, is a form of dietary fiber that is a commonly used household strategy for treating constipation. Number of research studies substantiate the advantages of dietary fiber. Fiber is not only linked to colon health but also plays a role in overall health as well as brain health via the gut-brain axis. Low-fiber diets have been linked to gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
How Much Fiber Should Be Consumed?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, dietary fiber recommendations for average adults range from 20-35g per day. More specifically, 25g and 38g for adult women and men, respectively. In cases of constipation, more fiber is needed. For pregnant and lactating women, this recommendation increases slightly to 28g and 29g, respectively. For children between 12 and 23 months old, the guidelines recommend a daily fiber intake of 19g. Kids from 1 to 18 years old are advised to consume between 14g and 31g of fiber daily, with the recommended amount varying based on their age and gender. Having a high-fiber diet offers distinct health advantages and enhances your overall wellbeing. Delineated below are some of the health benefits linked with the intake of fiber intake:
Gut Motility
Out of all the benefits of dietary fiber, the most appreciated is its effect on gut motility and the prevention of constipation. Fiber promotes the secretion of water and mucous from the intestinal lining. This increases the water content in the stool. Fiber helps water to be retained in the colon, that softens the stool, increases bowel movement and helps easy passage of the stool. This increased bulkiness and water content promotes wave-like contractions called peristalsis and thus increases gut motility. The use of fiber is an effective intervention for both the prevention and treatment of constipation.
Weight Loss
Obesity is one of the most serious public health issues. Fiber plays a significant role in the prevention of obesity. It helps to achieve satiety as high fiber diet is digested very slowly in the stomach and absorbed in the intestines over a long period of time as compared to a low-fiber diet. Consuming fiber containing diets delays gastric emptying, that create a feeling of fullness for an extended period. High fiber diet is usually low in calories and high in volume, which reduces the consumption of large amounts of calories and macronutrients such as fats and carbohydrates. 
Diabetic Management
Intake of dietary fiber is associated with improved insulin sensitivity and other metabolic benefits. Many studies have proven the effect of fiber on diabetic management. As fiber does not get absorbed and digested quickly, it does not cause an immediate increase in blood sugar levels. It releases energy slowly into the blood and thus reduces the glycemic response. The consumption of soluble dietary fiber from grains and cereals is related to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Fiber also has a significant impact on overall metabolic health, including improved lipid profile, body weight, and gut hormones.
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Heart diseases are one of the main causes of death all over the world. With modernized dietary patterns, the consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased drastically. Excessive use of fast food is associated with increased cholesterol and a higher risk of hypertension, which in turn increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. Recent studies showed that dietary fiber intake is beneficial for controlling serum cholesterol and blood pressure. Fiber lowers the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol, in our body. It binds with cholesterol in the digestive system and takes it out of the body before it gets absorbed in the blood, and its deficiency in the diet might be a contributing factor in the epidemic of cardiovascular diseases.

Chronic Inflammation
Our body’s defense mechanism or response to any foreign and harmful substance is called inflammation. Our immune system identifies and eliminates the irritant and starts the healing process. Low dietary fiber is associated with an increased risk of chronic inflammation, both locally and systemically. A limited intake of fiber is associated with reduced butyrate production, which plays a role in the mediation of inflammation. Given the possible effects of dietary fiber on gut microflora and the effect of butyrate on inflammation. 
The concept of good dietary practices and improved depressive symptoms is proved by Supporting the Modification of Lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States (SMILES) trials.  When the poor dietary pattern of patients with symptoms of depression was modified it shows improvement in their symptoms. Reduced intake of fiber is linked with the risk of developing depression, but this phenomenon is not well understood. It is thought that inflammation may arbitrate the relationship between dietary substances and may change the number of neurotransmitters, which can decrease the probability of depression. 
Prevention of Cancer 
Intake of fiber is also helpful in the prevention of some cancers. It is believed that the bulk of fibers traversing the colon reduces the risk of colorectal and pancreatic cancer by capturing bile acids and carcinogenic substances.

Adopting a healthy diet with an adequate amount of fiber is mandatory for maintaining good health and wellbeing. Despite being so beneficial, many factors contribute to the impoverishment of fiber in our diet. It is crucial to make conscious efforts to incorporate high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes into our daily meals. These small choices can easily turn into habits before you realize it. Feel free to give it a shot! Incorporate a fiber-rich diet for a healthy and livelier lifestyle.

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Laiba Kazmi