Surprisingly, for a nutrient that can help us manage our weight, have a healthy heart, and even lower the risk of certain cancers, we frequently overlook fiber in our diets. In fact, fiber is a much needed ingredient to boost our health quotient, tells Dr. Ieva Laurie, Principal Nutrition Scientist, Tate & Lyle. Here’s why.
FIBER IS NOT A WALLFLOWER
According to Dr. Laurie, only a small minority of people consume the recommended amount of dietary fiber per day. This ‘fiber gap’ is exacerbated by busier lifestyles which see many of us move away from traditional diets with nutrient dense ‘whole foods’ and towards more packaged foods, which, while delivering energy and key nutrients, can include high levels of fat, sugar, salt and calories, and low levels of fiber. She adds, “Fiber’s ‘wallflower’ status is beginning to change, though, as awareness of its many health benefits increases, helped by the publication of a landmark science review commissioned by the World Health Organization, which is bringing fiber into the limelight.
FIBER BROKEN DOWN
Fiber is a plant-based carbohydrate and, while there are different types of fiber, she points out that they all share certain characteristics. “Unlike other carbohydrates such as sugars or starch, fiber is not broken down in the stomach; instead, it passes through the stomach and small intestine and reaches the colon intact,” she says, and this key difference is what stops energy from fiber from being absorbed. This is what helps us maintain healthy glucose levels and, according to robust evidence, reduce our risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
FOR A HEALTHY GUT
Fiber, explains Dr. Laurie, helps to create a healthy environment in the gut by feeding ‘good’ bacteria what they need to thrive. “The presence and bulk of fiber in the small intestine and colon is what causes fiber’s normalizing effect on bowel movements, which is what fiber is best known for, however, it has also been found to lower the risk of colorectal and breast cancer,” she tells. “Emerging science points to other health benefits in certain fibers, from their role in supporting bone health through aiding calcium absorption, to strengthening our immune system, to a potential role in supporting brain health.”
HOW TO INCLUDE MORE FIBER IN YOUR DIET
Fruit and vegetables, such as kiwi fruit, pomegranates, and carrots, each offer three to four grams of fiber. Nuts, seeds, and pulses can also help you boost your intake, for instance—one serving of boiled green lentils contains around nine grams of fiber. Swapping favorite foods and drinks for enriched alternatives, including those with whole grains or additional soluble fiber, can also help you boost your fiber intake.