Fiber is an essential nutrient in our diet which mainly comes from wholefoods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and nuts. An adequate fiber intake is key to a healthy gut and regular bowel movements. How much fiber do we need, why is it good for us and should we take a fiber supplement? Let’s find out!May 30, 2022 5:58 pm March 30, 2022 4:34 pm
What is fiber?
Dietary fiber is a component of plant foods that is not fully digested by our bodies. High fiber intakes in the diet lead to multiple health benefits including reduced constipation, decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and colorectal cancer. In fact, the healthiest diets always include dietary fiber. Overall there are multiple types of dietary fibers which can be classified by their characteristics which include solubility, fermentability and viscosity.
The nature of each type of dietary fiber determines the specific role they play in the body.
Moreover, fiber is often categorised as either soluble or insoluble, however there are other physiochemical characteristics of fiber that we need to consider in order to understand the full spectrum of dietary fiber.
Fermentability of fiber
Fermentability is one of three essential properties to characterise fiber. In addition, the other two are solubility and viscosity. Fermentability is a scientific term to describe the process which occurs when fiber is broken down by the bacteria in our gut.
Fermentation takes place in our large intestine, where our gut bacteria essentially “eats” fiber and as a result, produces short-chain fatty acids and gases as by-products of the fermentation process.
If you think about how alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer are made, it involves a similar process. Put simply, alcoholic fermentation occurs when yeast uses sugar as fuel to produce ethanol, carbon dioxide and other byproducts. In fact, sugar is the fuel for yeast much like fiber is the fuel for our gut bacteria.
Viscosity of fiber
Dietary fiber can also be categorised based on its viscosity. Viscous fibers develop a thicker consistency when mixed with liquids. Examples of viscous fibers include psyllium, beta-glucans (found in oats, barley and fungi) and pectins (found in fruit, vegetables and legumes). When we eat viscous fibers, they form a gel like substance in our gut, this can decrease the absorption rate of certain nutrients such as glucose.
Moreover, other fibers such as cellulose (found in cell walls of green plants) and resistant starch (found in cooked and cooled starchy foods such as potatoes are non-viscous. Cellulose is also an insoluble fiber and resistant starch has very low solubility in water. However, these types of fibers play a different role in the body from viscous fibers. In fact, they add bulk to our stool and help keep our bowel movements regular. (1),(2)
“High intakes of dietary fiber play a preventative role in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”
Fiber for optimal gut health
Sources of low fermentable fiber (for example, cellulose found in all leafy greens) help prevent constipation by adding bulk to stool. It is important to ensure that you are getting enough fluid intake to go accompany your fiber intake. In addition, low fiber diets have been linked to conditions such as diverticulitis and in the worst cases, colorectal cancer. Diverticulitis occurs when pouches form inside your intestines and become inflamed or infected. A fiber-rich diet will keep your gut in good shape!
Fiber for a healthy heart
Some fermentable fibres such as beta-glucans found in oats have been found to reduce cholesterol levels. In fact, a review of the scientific literature found that an intake of at least 3g per day of oat beta-glucans may reduce total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by up to 10% in both people with high cholesterol and normal cholesterol.(3)
Fiber to regulate blood sugars
Moreover, dietary fiber intake can improve glycaemic control and plays a crucial role in the management of type 2 diabetes. In fact there is evidence to show that high intakes of dietary fiber play a preventative role in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Overall, a fiber-rich diet has also been shown to increase satiety and delay the onset of hunger.(4)(5)
How much fiber do I need?
In the US, most people are averaging about 15g of fiber per day, this is well below the recommended 25 to 30g per day. In fact, the American Heart Association Eating Plan suggests eating a wide variety of fiber containing foods. So should you take a fiber supplement?
Fiber is naturally abundant in a large variety of foods, particularly fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. For this reason, most of us shouldn’t need a supplement if we are eating a varied diet.
Eat more fruits and vegetables – fruits and vegetables are some of the highest natural sources of fiber! Not only are they full of essential vitamins and minerals, they will also help keep your gut in top condition thanks to their fiber content. Remember that drinking fruit juice is not the same as eating whole fruit because you are often missing out on all the gut-friendly fiber!
- Have fiber-rich snacks. Snacking on fiber-rich foods is a great way to increase your daily fiber intake. Our fiber-rich crackers are a tasty way to sneak more fiber into your day.
- Switch from regular grains to wholegrains. Switch from regular white bread to wholemeal bread or bread with grains and seeds, white rice to brown rice, regular pasta to wholewheat pasta. These small changes will add up to increase your fiber consumption. Oats and porridge are also great options for a fiber-friendly breakfast!
I feel like I’m eating enough fiber but I’m still struggling with constipation, why?
Fiber plays a key role in ensuring healthy and regular bowel movements. However, it is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to prevent or relieve constipation, there are three main elements to consider: fiber intake, hydration levels, and level of physical activity.
It is possible that someone who consumes adequate amounts of fiber yet is not getting adequate hydration, and leads a sedentary lifestyle, may suffer from constipation.
In fact, increasing your fiber intake without also increasing your fluid intake can lead to constipation. Make sure you are drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day to keep your gut in check.
In addition, physical activity plays an important role in bowel regularity. It has been shown that a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity can negatively affect our gut.
Aim to move your body every day, whether it’s a walk in the park or a gym class, it will benefit both your physical and mental health.
Should I take a fiber supplement?
Fiber supplements come in many shapes and sizes, from powders to capsules. Some medical conditions may specifically call for a routine fiber supplement.
However, for most of us, focusing on a fiber-rich diet through an intake of healthy whole foods should be enough to meet our daily needs.
Eating plenty of whole grain cereals and breads, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds is a great way to ensure that you are eating a fiber-rich diet. If you’re looking for some gut-friendly fiber rich snacks, our Organic Rosemary Sweet Potato Crackers provide 12g of fiber per 100g. That’s about twice as much fiber as a regular loaf of wholemeal bread! If you’re after a sweet snack or breakfast idea, our Tigernut Granola provides 14g of fiber per 100g, which is also two times more than an average store bought granola.
Overall, if you are including plenty of fiber rich foods into your diet you likely won’t need a fiber supplement. However, if you feel like this is still not enough, check with your medical practitioner or dietitian to discuss whether a fiber supplement may be beneficial for you.
How much fiber is too much fiber?
Most of us are not meeting our daily fiber needs so the main concern for the majority of people is to focus on adding more fiber to their diet.
If, however, you happen to be the exception to the rule and eat a lot of fiber, how much is too much?
There is no clear evidence to determine how much is “too much”, so we suggest listening to your body. If you are experiencing bloating, excessive trips to the bathroom, or other unpleasant gut symptoms, it may be because you have introduced too much fiber too soon.
Note that an irritable gut can also be caused by other factors so don’t assume that fiber is necessarily the culprit. Food sensitivities and intolerances can also lead to uncomfortable gut symptoms so it’s best to rule them out with your doctor or dietitian before you make any changes to your diet.