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Much has been said today about adding “fiber” to the diet. Articles on improving health and eating habits appear in all kinds of publications and health sites, highlighting the importance of fiber.
However, despite its publicity, most of us do not understand what fiber really is, its food sources, how it helps clean the digestive tract, and the important role it plays in our body’s system.
Technically, fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate supplement. Since we do not digest the fiber, it passes through the stomach and small intestines and is dumped as waste into the colon. Colon bacteria begin to feed on some of these undigested fibers, which produce many B vitamins and vitamin K as by-products. In fact, the rest of the undigested fiber is excreted. Despite its transit through your body, this undigested fiber performs several vital health functions along the way, depending on the variety of fiber it is.
Soluble or Insoluble
Nutrition experts classify fiber as either water-soluble or insoluble. Insoluble fiber, usually known as roughage, acts as a cleaning agent in the digestive system.
Once the food is absorbed in the stomach, and the nutrients are absorbed through the small intestine walls, the “waste” with the undigested fiber is transferred to the colon. The function of the colon is to create a solid material to be removed from the intestines. Insoluble fiber is acting like a sponge in this process. It absorbs water that is drawn into the colon, increasing the bulk while softening the stool.
The increased bulk of the stool exerts pressure on the colon’s walls, spurring gentle, rhythmic compressions of the colon, called peristalsis, which in turn produces an urge to eliminate the stool. The roughage of insoluble fiber, like the bran portion of the grain, is also mildly abrasive and is used to gently clean the digestive tract.
Larger stools fill the colon more swiftly, and the urge to eliminate the colon comes only when the colon is full. The pressure exerted by the insoluble fiber “shortens the transit time” means that we will eliminate it more frequently and regularly.
However, do not confuse these more regular, bulky movements with some people’s frequent yet very loose watery bowel movements. This chronic, diarrhea type of rejection is caused by abnormal colon peristalsis contractions that seek to eliminate old built-up waste that has not been completely removed.
The watery, loose stool is because of the lack of fiber in the colon to absorb the excess water produced by increased contractions. In actual fact, these signs are nothing more than advanced complications of constipation.
Sources of Fiber
The most efficient and abundant source of insoluble fiber comes from the whole grain portion of the bran. Insoluble fiber is also present in beans, vegetable skins, and firm fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and apples. There is no significant fiber of any kind in lettuce.
Another significant aspect of insoluble fiber is that it easily absorbs toxins in the digestive tract. Many research types believe that insoluble fibers reduce the risk of colon cancer by accelerating the removal of toxins from your intestinal tract.
On the other hand, soluble fiber is a non-structural compound of plants, such as gums and pectin, which gelatinizes when dissolved in water. In the digestive tract, soluble fiber binds and accelerates the elimination of critical compounds from the body.
Increased intake of fiber without increasing water consumption may cause constipation and bloat. As explained earlier, the fiber absorbs water in the digestive tract, so you need to drink extra water. It’s important to drink water-other fluids that don’t produce the same results. Every day, I start with a large glass (16 oz.) of water before I eat anything. It is very stimulating for both the colon and the salivary glands in your mouth.