Fibres! Food for Feeling Fantastic!
What are fibers and what role do they play in nutrition?
Fibers have long been considered unimportant for the body and it has only become clear later that fibre is a key ingredient for optimal health. Fibre is an indispensable element for a balanced and healthy nutrition. Simply put fibre is the part of the plant foods that our bodies cannot digest or breakdown.
What types of fibres are there?
Fibers are among the carbohydrate family and can be divided into insoluble and soluble fibers due to their different properties.
Insoluble fibers have limited fermentability and do not dissolve in water. These fibres add bulk to stool helping food move quickly through the intestines and help promote regularity. Insoluble fibres promote regularity and have a laxative effect by irritating the mucosa of the large intestine which triggers water and mucous secretion. It is very important to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated when consuming high fibre foods. Consuming too much fibre and not enough water can have the opposite effect we are looking for and cause nausea and constipation.
Some sources of insoluble fibre:
Cellulose: Wheat bran, whole grain products, vegetables
Hemicellulose: Cereal grains, oats, rye, barley, legumes, fruits, vegetables
Lignin: Corn, lignified vegetables
Chitin: Mushrooms, articulate animals
Soluble fibers as the name suggests are soluble in water and create a gel-like substance during the digestion process. Many sources of soluble fibres like psyllium or pectin can be found in dietary and supplement sources.
The gel-forming effects of soluble fibre slows down digestion. Food moves more slowly through the digestive tract which can help improve satiety (the feeling of being full and satisfied) for longer periods of time. This can help prevent overeating and hunger pangs between meals.
Some sources of soluble fibre:
Pectin: Apples, quinces, pears, fruit, vegetables, legumes
Marine-algae extracts - agar agar, carrageen: algae
Seed mucilage: Locust bean gum, guar gum, linseeds, psyllium, chia seeds
Natural gum, acacia gum: Vegetables, bark from different acacia
Fructosans: Onions, leek, asparagus
B-glucans: Oats, rye, barley, mushrooms
Resistant starch: Glucose; starch granules difficult to attack
How do fibres work?
Fibers have a variety of different properties depending on the category.
They stimulate chewing:
Due to fiber structure, especially of cellulose and lignin, the food has to be chewed more intensively, which also stimulates the saliva flow. This supports tooth cleaning and neutralizes microbially formed acids, which has positive effects on dental health. The increased chewing effort also slows down food intake and triggers satiety stimuli, which usually means that less food is eaten overall.
Water binding, swelling properties, long-lasting saturation:
The water-binding and swelling properties increase the viscosity, i.e. the fluidity and volume of the stomach content. This delays the emptying of the stomach, which leads to longer satiety.
Swelling types of fiber delay the passage time of chyme through the small intestine, while fiber-like and water-insoluble fibers as well as the mucous substances speed up the passage time. This is why fibres are so important to regulate intestinal disorders, such as constipation, and to improve bowel movements overall.
Positive effect on blood sugar and insulin levels:
Some gel-forming (soluble) dietary fibers hinder enzymes during digestion, which can slow the absorption of sugars, and flows more slowly into the blood therefore increasing insulin and blood sugar to a lesser amount. A diet that includes insoluble fibres may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Binding cholesterol and environmental toxins:
Some dietary fibers, such as pectin, have the ability to bind to environmental toxins or even excess cholesterol and eliminate them from the body. This can reduce fat absorption, lower blood cholesterol, and decrease the deposit of toxic heavy metals and other pollutants.
Promote microflora and lower pH value:
Due to the structural properties of dietary fiber, the multiplication of good colon bacteria is promoted and undesirable germs are lowered, among other things, by lowering the pH value. Thus, the microflora of the intestine is strengthened and can better protect against nutrition-related diseases.
How are fibres used in the food industry?
Some of the listed dietary fibers look familiar to us from convenience foods and various processed foods, as their use is widespread in the food industry.
The food industry particularly appreciates the water-binding and gel-forming properties of a wide variety of dietary fibers (locust bean gum, guar gum or carrageen, xanthan and alginates) and likes to use them as stabilizers and thickeners.
Just as popular, however, are the water-soluble dietary fibers oligofructose and inulin, which have a slight sweetness and give some low-fat products a creamy consistency. However, some of these dietary fibers, which are extracted or produced by chemical processes, are suspected of promoting diseases. Such as carrageen, which is suspected of being carcinogenic and therefore banned in infant food.
How much fiber should be eaten daily?
The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) recommends an amount of 30g of dietary fiber per day. Metabolic Balance also recommends this amount and takes it into account when creating personalized nutrition plans.
To meet one's daily requirement of 30g of fiber, nutrition must include plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and legumes. For example, 3 slices of whole meal bread, 250g of vegetables, 300g of fruit and 200g of potatoes can cover the daily requirement.
Exclusively isolated fiber in the form of psyllium, chia seeds or wheat bran cannot replace fiber-rich foods. However, these can be added as a useful supplement to nutrition, e.g. in cereals (psyllium husks). Be aware: After ingesting isolated fiber such as psyllium husks, chia seeds or wheat bran, in any case drink 1-2 large glasses of water. Only then the dietary fiber can swell properly and develop its positive effect. If this is not taken into account, among other things, constipation can occur, as the dietary fiber pulls the required water from the intestinal content.
What happens if too little fiber is eaten?
If too little dietary fiber is ingested, this can lead to various negative effects:
Changes in the intestinal wall and intestinal mucosa
Obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes type 2
Tumors in the colon and rectum
As mentioned at the beginning, the assumption that fiber is unimportant and does not benefit our health can be clearly refuted. A sufficient daily intake of fiber is essential for balanced and healthy nutrition. This cannot only support nutrition-related diseases, such as constipation, but also, above all, do something for your health in a preventive way.
Those who eat according to their individual Metabolic Balance nutrition plan can be sure that they consume the recommended amount of 30g of dietary fiber per day. With the balanced ratio of proteins to carbohydrates in the form of fruit and vegetables, as well as the many starchy foods such as whole meal rye bread, oatmeal, potatoes or wild rice, as they prevail in the personalized Metabolic Balance nutrition plans, nothing stands in the way of a fiber-rich, balanced, healthy and preventive nutrition.