A fiber is a particle of plants that is not digested in the small intestine. So it arrives intact in the large intestine. Therefore, fibers provide no nutrients, but do have some useful functions for the body. They are important for a healthy digestion.
Fibers are important for proper bowel function. They contribute to the feeling of saturation and thus to the maintenance of a healthy weight. Fibers are mainly carbohydrates, derived from the cell wall of plants. They can naturally be found in a food product, but fibers may also be added later.
There are two types of fibers: fibers which are broken down in the large intestine (fermentable fibers) and fibers which are not broken down in the large intestine (non-fermentable fibers).
Fibers are only found in vegetable foods, not in animal products. Thus, whole grain products, fruits, vegetables and legumes contain a lot of fibers.
Fibers have, depending on the type of fiber, various functions in the body:
- Proper bowel function and bowel movements. Fibers help to prevent intestinal problems. They stimulate bowel movements, wipe the intestinal wall and prevent constipation, hemorrhoids or bulges in the colon wall.
- Maintain a healthy weight. High-fiber food helps to maintain weight. Fibers barely provide calories, but they do give a saturated, full feeling. Thus, it’s less likely that a person eats more than necessary.
- Good for the heart. A high-fiber diet reduces the risk of coronary artery diseases. There are indications that this is mainly applicable to fibers from wholegrain cereals and fruits. Some fibers have a positive effect on cholesterol content. The total fiber intake also seems to play a modest role in reducing blood pressure.
- Prevent diabetes. There are indications that fibers from whole grain products can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Prevent colon cancer. Scientific research into colon cancer shows that a high-fiber diet protects people from this disease.
- Most people get less fiber than the recommended amount. There are, on the other hand, no known harmful effects of a diet with too many fibers.
- When consuming fibers, it’s important to drink sufficiently. Fibers retain moisture in the intestine.
- Increasing fiber intake can cause flatulence.