Despite the trend towards a low-carb lifestyle, dietary fiber is an important component of healthy eating. This "roughage" is found in whole grains, seeds, nuts, roots, fruits and vegetables. Fiber is beneficial for warding off diabetes, diverticulitis, heart disease, constipation and bowel disorders.
Fiber traditionally referred to the inert parts of food that simply passed through our digestive systems and was excreted. Now the term encompasses things like complex carbohydrates, natural polymers, pectin, gums and psyllium. Fiber can be divided into two categories: soluble and insoluble, each with its own health benefits.
Soluble fiber includes pectin, guar gum, cellulose and other compounds. It's found in oat bran, legumes, some seeds, brown rice, barley and apples, along with some other fruits and some green vegetables like broccoli. The body breaks it down as it passes through the digestive tract, forming a gel that sticks to substances related to cholesterol, helping rid the body of this health-hinderer. This process can decrease the risk of heart disease and can also be beneficial for diabetics. Soluble fiber may help regulate blood sugar, decrease insulin needs and help prevent glucose spikes by slowing down the digestion of food.
Insoluble fiber includes things like whole grains, wheat bran, some seeds and the skin of certain fruits and vegetables. This kind of fiber bulks up stools and speeds up its passage from the body, making it a good constipation aid.
It is best to eat unrefined foods as milling, peeling, boiling and other food processes remove the outer fiber layer. Many supermarket products are "enriched" with fiber, but they don't contain nearly the levels of fiber or other nutrients as consuming natural whole foods would.