What is fiber and why do we need it?
Dietary fiber (also called roughage) consists of the indigestible part of foods, and can be grouped into two categories: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is readily fermented in the colon into gases and active byproducts, whilst insoluble fiber is not fermented, but absorbs water as it moves through the digestive system to form the bulk of the stool. Chemically, dietary fibers consist of non-starch polysaccharides (of which the most well known is cellulose), waxes, chitins and other plant components. Consequently, the term “fiber” is somewhat of a misnomer, since not all indigestible plant substances are fibrous.
To avoid gastrointestinal discomfort, such as gas and loose stool, the Indian review team advises that people gradually increase their fiber consumption throughout the day by including more fiber rich foods, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits (consumed with the skin on), greens, nuts and seeds.
As worrying health conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity are wreaking havoc in western populations, scientists warn that early onset of illness may be a sign of fiber-deficient diets, which could easily be corrected naturally simply by consuming a wider variety of plant-based foods. The “western-type” diet is rich in red meat, processed sugars, refined flour and countless unnatural additives, often under the pretext that people don’t have enough time to spend on preparing complicated meals that are healthy. Nonetheless, porridge, smoothies, salads, mashed legumes, whole breads and crackers are examples of simple dishes that can significantly improve fiber intake. Even having just one or two more unpeeled fruits each day is beneficial to gastrointestinal health.
A warning for future generations
The scientists note that since fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes are widely available all year round in western countries, getting people to eat more fiber is simply a matter of education. This way, individuals may avoid making unhealthy, low-fiber dietary choices throughout their lives.