The part of all plant-based foods that your body cannot absorb is called dietary fiber. This undigestible property of dietary fiber makes it unique compared to food components such as fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Fiber, also known as roughage, passes through your digestive system mostly intact. This action, while it does not add nutrients or energy, plays an important role in maintaining optimal health.
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There are two categories of dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, while soluble fiber does. Insoluble fiber helps move food through the digestive system. It also increases the stool bulk. This helps prevent constipation or inconsistent stools. It also minimizes the risk of hemorrhoids. Some types of foods that are good sources of insoluble fiber include nuts, most vegetables, bran and the peels of fruits, such as apples and grapes.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the digestive system. This gel actually slows down digestion, which makes the stomach and intestine reduce the absorption of sugar and starch. In turn, this can decrease cholesterol levels over time, which can help prevent heart disease. Sources of this type of fiber include psyllium husk (found in over-the-counter dietary fiber products), oats and the soft parts of fruits. Dried beans and peas are also high in soluble fiber.
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The MayoClinic.com reports there are health benefits of consuming sufficient dietary fiber beyond normalizing bowel movements and lowering blood cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber, because it slows absorption of sugar, helps regulate blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber has been linked to a reduced chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Dietary fiber may also aid weight loss. Foods high in fiber take longer to eat so you are less likely to overeat. They also make you feel full for a longer period of time.
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The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests, based on the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine recommendations, that adults consume 20 to 35 grams of dietary fiber per day. There is no dietary fiber intake recommendation for children. Do not give fiber supplements to a child without consulting a pediatrician. It is also important for you to consult your physician before making any major lifestyle or dietary changes.
Ellen Topness has been a counselor in the mental health field for more than 25 years. She has a Master of Arts in counseling. Throughout her career, Topness has enjoyed writing articles, poems and vignettes for pleasure. She also released a new ebook, "A Natural Disaster: Learning to Survive Myself."