How To Choose The Right Fiber For Your Diet


‘Have more fiber in your diet’ is the advice which many patients commonly receive at the end of their consultation. Fiber is highly recommended for its benefits in weight loss, constipation, reducing a sudden rise in the blood sugar levels, reducing cholesterol, etc.

However, there are certain rules to follow when you add fiber to your diet. Simply adding any type of dietary fiber in any quantity is not recommended. Having said that, adding any kind of fiber in any quantity may lead to an increase in your symptoms if you have an underlying stomach condition. In this article, let us understand about the right type of fibers recommended for different digestive conditions.

First, let us understand what are the different types of dietary fibers

Dietary fiber is divided into 2 categories.

  1. Insoluble fiber
  2. Soluble fiber

 

Insoluble fiber: As the name suggests, insoluble fiber is insoluble and consists of materials, such as cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Insoluble fiber absorbs water and swells up in the intestine, thereby forming bulk and stimulating the movements of the intestine, facilitating the faster passage of the food through the intestine, and promoting for proper bowel movements.

Insoluble fiber is present in whole grains, vegetables, carrot, cucumbers, legumes, etc. Shells of shrimp and crabs are the non-vegetarian sources of insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber: As the name suggests, soluble fiber is soluble in water. It absorbs water and turns into a gel-like substance in the stomach, thereby creating a sensation of fullness and slowing down the digestion which in turn reduces the spike of blood sugar levels after having food. It also plays an important role in reducing the absorption of cholesterol from the intestines.

Soluble fiber is present in beans, lentils, oat-meals, peas, citrus fruits, apples, pears, etc.

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How Much Fiber Should You Eat Every Day?

The Indian Council of Medical Research recommends that 40 grams of dietary fiber (as per 2000 Kcal diet) should be included in the daily diet of the adults. (1)

 

Tips to Add Fiber in Your Diet:

  1. Do not add all the recommended dietary fiber in a single meal. This will cause bloating and cramping. Instead, add fiber slowly. Start with a small quantity for a week, and increase the quantity as you can tolerate it.
  2. Fiber absorbs water from the intestine and leads to dry hard stools with difficulty in passing it. Hence, keep yourself adequately hydrated when you increase the fiber content in your diet.
  3. Limit the intake of tea/ coffee or aerated drinks when you are taking high fiber, as these may cause dehydration and make you suffer from constipation.

 

Benefits of Fiber in Diet:

  1. Aids in weight loss: Since the intake of foods that are high in fiber keeps the stomach full for a long time, one often eats less. Also, the fiber-rich foods are not as dense in calories as refined foods.
  2. Prevents sudden spike in the blood sugar levels: Since the soluble fiber takes longer to digest, it prevents the sudden increase in the blood sugar levels that normally happens after having the food.
  3. Regulates bad cholesterol: Fiber intake helps control bad cholesterol by reducing its absorption from the intestine into the bloodstream.
  4. Helps prevent constipation: The soluble and insoluble fiber adds bulk to the food, thus they stimulate the movement of intestines and preventing constipation.
  5. Fiber helps in maintaining the GUT health

 

Fiber Diet in Special Conditions: 

  • Irritable bowel syndrome: This is a functional disorder characterized by symptoms, such as bloating, stomach pain, loose motions or constipation or lose motions alternating with constipation, and urgency for stools. The patients suffering from IBS experience phases of remissions and relapses.

 

For patients of IBS with diarrhea, a diet with adequate soluble fiber will help since it slows down the gut movement and helps in improving the recovery from loose motions. So, reduce the intake of insoluble fiber.

In the case of IBS with constipation, a diet with adequate insoluble fiber will help, as it stimulates the peristalsis and, hence, improves the recovery from constipation.

People suffering from IBS are sensitive to several food items, and different people may react in a different way to the same food item. Foods that may work for some individuals might not work well for others. Hence, it is also important that these patients maintain a food diary.

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Ulcerative colitis, & Crohn’s disease: These conditions are characterized by the inflammation of the large intestines, and the patients experience symptoms, such as diarrhea, severe pain in the stomach, tiredness, and weight loss. These diseases have phases of remission (where the patient remains relatively symptom-free) and relapse.

 

During the phase of relapse, when the symptoms reappear, a low-fiber diet is recommended. Eating fiber-rich foods at this stage may increase the symptoms, such as abdominal pain and abdominal bloating.

When the relief in symptoms improve and the patient is relatively symptom-free (remission phase), one can, gradually and cautiously, increase the fiber intake.

With Crohn’s disease, during the episodes of flare-ups, a diet comprising more of soluble fiber is recommended, and it is advised to minimize the intake of insoluble fiber. A diet rich in insoluble fiber could increase the symptoms.

Low fiber diet: A low fiber diet includes foods that are very low fiber content. This is indicated in cases where the intestine has become narrow due to a tumor or other medical condition. It is also recommended to people suffering from the damage to the intestines due to radiation or have undergone intestinal surgery.

Most of the foods are a combination of soluble and insoluble fibers, and one needs to remove the insoluble part of the food, for instance, peeling of the skin or removing seeds in case of tomatoes and brinjal, and cooking the food properly.

A low fiber diet comprises of white bread, white rice, tender meat, fish, eggs, peeled and boiled potatoes, peeled/boiled/ de-seeded vegetables, bananas, strained fruit juices without pulp, soft melon, gelatin, cakes, frozen desserts, etc.

Avoid whole grains, stringy vegetables, vegetables with peel (e.g. potatoes), nuts, dried fruits, etc.

Now that you know how to choose the right fiber for your diet depending on your condition, make the right choice, and enjoy good health.

 

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