Fiber is great stuff! But what’s the difference between soluble and insoluble, and which is better? Well, both have benefits but have different jobs that are essential to good health.
First of all, how much should we eat? Our ancestors consumed between 50 and 100 grams of fiber daily. It’s recommended (by the Institute of Medicine) that we eat 20-35 grams per day. The reality is that most Americans consume between 4 and 11 grams of fiber per day!
Both soluble and insoluble fiber are important, but for different reasons. Soluble water dissolves in water and can be absorbed into the body. It gets fermented in the gut by your bodies “good” bacteria, which then produces something known as short chain fatty acids. These have significant benefits such as stabilizing insulin levels, controlling LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and it may help prevent polyps from developing in the intestines. They also help increase the absorption of dietary minerals as well as stimulate components of the immune system from cells to antibodies. Sources include legumes, oats, fresh and dried fruits (especially berries and prunes), vegetables (broccoli) and psyllium husks.
Insoluble fiber does just what it sounds like…it can’t be absorbed. This type of fiber helps increase bulk and soften stool, and shortens the transit time (the time everything stays in the gut). Good sources are lignans (flaxseeds), vegetables, unprocessed bran, nuts, seeds, the skins of some fruits, wheat germ and some whole grains (read labels for fiber content).
Most fiber containing foods have a combination of these two types. Another great benefit of fiber is its ability to make it easier to control weight. It helps with satiety (makes you feel full) and helps control blood sugar.
Some important things to know:
Be careful with psyllium; it can absorb or decrease the effectiveness of some medications, such as Coumadin. Check with your pharmacist or avoid it within 2 hours of taking certain medications.
Drink plenty of water when increasing fiber. Otherwise, your friends may not want to be around you due to increased gas.
Add fiber gradually. A big increase can cause constipation. Start by eating more nuts, seeds and grains, then add more bran, vegetables and fruits.
Find out how much fiber is in your diet and try to eat the recommended 20-35 grams daily.