Fiber is a component of plant based foods that is especially important for healthy digestion. Fiber is contained in all of the edible parts of plants; these being the roots, leaves, stems, pulp, seeds, and skin. It is not digested or absorbed by your body. The two broad categories of fiber are soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Both keep the digestive track running smoothly, but each in its own unique way.
An easy trick to differentiate between the two fiber types is to think of an apple. The skin of the apple is the insoluble fiber and the flesh inside is the soluble fiber. Let’s take a look at the difference between the two.
Soluble fiber comes into play at the beginning of the digestion process. It absorbs many times its weight in water as it travels through your system, turning into a soft, gel-like material. This substance is sticky and slow-moving and as a result, slows down the rate at which food leaves your stomach. This ensures the proper absorption of the food’s nutrients before it turns to waste and is eliminated.
Soluble fiber also promotes healthy digestion by softening your stool and giving it bulk. A soft, bulky stool is much easier to pass than is stool that is small and hard.
Another benefit of soluble fiber is that it acts as a food source for intestinal bacteria. These “good” bacteria are a critical part of the digestive process. Soluble fiber can also lessen the amount of sugars and starches that are absorbed into the intestinal tract and stomach.
The most common sources of soluble fiber include oat meal, oat bran, beans, barley, seeds, nuts, plums, apples, pears, citrus fruits, berries, prunes, and potatoes.
At the end of the digestion process, insoluble fiber comes into play. Insoluble fiber is sometimes referred to as “roughage”. It travels through your digestive system pretty much intact and acts like a sponge absorbing water along the way. As a result, it adds to the bulk of your stool.
A bulky stool is crucial for the prevention of constipation. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, a colon needs a large stool to do its job properly. A large stool pushes up against the colon walls signaling to the colon that it is there and triggering the colon into action. A small stool goes relatively unnoticed by the colon causing you to strain excessively.
The bulk provided by insoluble fiber can also help excessive diarrhea. It also helps remove colon toxins and balances intestinal acidity.
Popular sources of insoluble fiber include whole grain (including cereals and pastas), the stringy part of leaf vegetables, the skin of fruit and root vegetables, corn, broccoli, and celery.
Portion control is a must for healthy digestion. Both soluble and insoluble fiber can help you feel full longer preventing you from overeating.
You should shoot to get 20-35 grams of dietary fiber into your diet each day. However, avoid bloating and gas by not eating too much fiber too quickly. Over a period of a couple of weeks, gradually increase the amount you consume.