Dietary Fiber - Not A Nutrient, But Important For Digestive Health
“You are what you eat” is a common phrase, however, a more accurate statement is “You are what you digest.” This is because dietary nutrients will not be available for the body if they are not optimally digested and absorbed through the digestive tract. A poorly functioning digestive system leads to inadequate nutrient absorption/malnourishment and the development of various health issues such as seasonal allergies, acid reflux, autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel disease. Our ability to fight seasonal flu or serious infections depends upon a healthy digestive tract. Just like all other systems in our body, the digestive system requires not only macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and amino acids), but also dietary fiber.
Dietary fiber was once not considered to be an important component in our diet due to the lack of understanding of its specific role in the body. Dietary fiber is not a nutrient. It is comprised of complex carbohydrates which are not digested in our system. It provides no calories but is critically important for our health.
Research shows that the most common causes of death and disability in the world - heart disease, cancer, and strokes - are related to poor dietary and lifestyle choices. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three people will have diabetes by 2050. Such a stark increase is also seen in other chronic diseases, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and many cancers. At the same time, the consumption of dietary fiber is consistently decreasing due to increased consumption of processed food and red meat products.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily intake of total fiber for adults is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. Dietary sources of fiber come from vegetables, fruits, and grains and legumes. Good sources of vegetable fiber can be found in cauliflower, broccoli, celery, potatoes, peas, beans, carrots, asparagus, artichokes, cucumbers, summer squash, parsley, and Brussels sprouts. Apples, oranges, grapefruits, blackberries, tomatoes, dates, and raisins are excellent fruits that provide dietary fiber. Specific grains that are high in fiber content are wheat bran, whole wheat bread, oat and rice bran, and brown rice and barley. Legumes include kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
Dietary fiber is beneficial in preventing the most dangerous triad of diseases included in “metabolic syndrome.” This condition is characterized by abdominal obesity, high blood sugar (diabetes), and high cholesterol, which in turn increase the incidence of cardiovascular disease and many types of cancers. In addition, dietary fiber may also help in prevention of several digestive disorders such as chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, acid reflux and stomach ulcers, diverticulitis, and possibly colon cancer. A fiber rich diet is also helpful in prevention of certain skin conditions such as acne. Fiber may also reduce the risk of gallstones and kidney stones.
In our next Health Science News Page, we will explore the detailed mechanism of the action of dietary fiber in maintaining optimal health and disease prevention.