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Dietary fiber is essentially plant based nutrients that passes through your digestive system mainly undigested and intact. There are, in general, 2 types of fiber, namely soluble and insoluble fiber.
We will first discuss the distinction between these 2 types of fibers and dwell into the specific benefits they have for the body.
Benefits of Soluble Fiber
For soluble fiber, as its name suggests, can be dissolved in water and other digestive fluids, forming a gel like consistency (1). The benefits of soluble fiber to the body are as follows :
Helps with weight management
As a gel, it helps to block and encase fats as they travel through the small intestines, effectively helping to reduce its absorption into the body (2).
Can help to lower cholesterol levels
It also helps with reducing dietary cholesterol (cholesterol that you consume) from being digested and absorbed into the body (2).
Prevents blood sugar spikes, beneficial for diabetics
Soluble fiber can also help in slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates such as simple sugars. By slowing down the absorption process, it helps to reduce the chances of sharp spikes in blood sugar levels, instead making blood sugar levels consistent over a longer period of time. This is not only beneficial to diabetics, they are also helpful in preventing food coma or lethargy that usually follows after sugar spikes (3).
Keeps Chronic illness at bay
With the above benefits cited, soluble fiber can easily be said to help combat chronic illness such as diabetes and heart diseases through positively impacting our cholesterol, blood sugar levels and weight management.
Did you know that increasing the intake of dietary fiber by 2 servings of whole grain products every day might help lower the chances of you contracting type 2 diabetes by as much as 21 % (4).
Prebiotics to feed gut bacteria
Soluble fiber basically acts as prebiotics, or food for the good bacteria to thrive in your digestive system (2).
Benefits of Insoluble Fiber
For insoluble fiber, it is the opposite of soluble fiber whereby if does not dissolve in fluid and travels generally intact through the digestive system (1). So what are the benefits of insoluble fiber? They are namely :
Prevention of constipation by ensuring bowel movement
As the fiber moves through the intestines, it will begin to absorb fluid and adhere other unwanted materials to form into stool for passing. Having insoluble fiber present in the gastrointestinal tract helps to accelerate waste processing and its movement through the system, thereby helping prevent constipation by encouraging regularity in bowel movement (2).
Reduces the chances of colon diseases
By promoting regularity, preventing constipation and blockages, insoluble fiber helps with reducing the chances of diverticular disease ( development of inflamed pouches / haemorrhoids in the colon) (1). It is also said to help reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Both Types of Fiber can help you control your appetite
One thing that both types of fiber can help with is to keep you feel fuller for longer periods of time (5). As we discussed prior, soluble fiber helps in slowing down food digestion by enveloping the fats and caborhydrates. Insoluble fiber helps to fill up the space in the stomach and intestines. As such, a fiber rich meal is really beneficial for individuals who are looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy BMI!
How much Fiber to consume
HPB or Singapore Health Promotion Board recommends a daily dietary fibre intake of 20g for women and 26g for men.
This approximately equates to 2 servings of fruits and 2 servings of vegetables per day.
So what does 1 serving look like? It is approximately 1 small apple / orange/ pear or one wedge of papaya. It would be advisable to spread this fiber intake over the day, consuming about half plate of fruits and vegetable at each meal.
As for children, one way to estimate how much fiber your child needs is to take your child's age and add 5 or 10 to it (6). For example:
- A 5-year-old should get about 10–15 grams (g) of fiber every day.
- A 10-year old should get 15–20 grams (g) of fiber a day.
- A 15-year-old should get 20–25 grams (g) of fiber a day
And this is maybe for kids up till 16 or 18.
By : Alvin Ho
B (Eng), MBA, Certified Allied Healthcare/Fitness Professional (EIMS), Master Fitness Trainer / Fitness Nutrition, Resistance & Endurance Training Specialist (NFPT)