Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our body is unable to digest. Though most carbohydrates are broken down into sugar molecules, fiber cannot be broken down into sugar molecules, and instead it passes through the body undigested. Fiber helps regulate sugars in the body and helps keep hunger and blood sugar in check.
Children and adults need at least 20 to 30 grammes of fiber per day for good health. It can be obtained by consuming a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fruits.
There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fibre.
Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that dissolves in water and can help lower glucose levels and blood cholesterol levels. Foods with soluble fiber include oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples, and blueberries.
Insoluble fiber is a type of fiber that does not dissolve in water. It can help food move through the digestive system, promoting regularity and helping to prevent constipation. Foods with insoluble fibers are wheat, whole wheat bread, whole grain couscous, brown rice, legumes, carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
There are various studies confirming that consumption of a diet high in fiber helps to make the overall body function healthier.
In a Harvard study with over 40, 000 male health professionals, researchers found that consumption of a high-fiber diet reduced the risk of getting coronary heart disease by 40%. Another study conducted by Harvard among female nurses also found similar findings: a high-fiber diet lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome (a combination factor of heart disease and diabetes). These factors are high blood pressure, high insulin levels, excess weight, a high triglyceride level, and a low HDL level (good cholesterol level).
Diabetes Mellitus Type 2.
A diet low in fiber and high in carbohydrates and fat can cause a sudden spike in blood sugar, which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Both Harvard studies with female nurses and male health professionals found that this type of diet increased more than double the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Other studies, such as the Black Women’s Health Study and the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, have shown similar results.
It is believed that the fibre in wheat bran and oat bran is more potent than the fibre found in fruits and vegetables. In addition, because fibre absorbs water, experts advise increasing beverage intake along with fibre intake rather than doing so abruptly.
Fiber is shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer through a large-scale study in 2016, where the findings indicate that higher fiber intake reduces breast cancer risk, suggesting that fiber intake during adolescence and early adulthood may be particularly important.
In other words, women who consume higher fiber foods during adolescence and young adulthood, including vegetables and fruits, may have a significantly lower breast cancer risk than those who eat less dietary fiber when young.
In conclusion, consumption of sufficient fiber can give various benefits to the human body. According to the Malaysia Food Pyramid 2020, it is recommended to consume 3 servings of vegetables and fruits daily. However, according to the National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS), about 95% of Malaysians do not consume enough vegetables and fruits daily, which is why sometimes consumption of fiber supplements can help to bridge the gap of poor dietary intake.
1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Fiber. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
2. National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) (2019). Chapter 09, Of fruits, veggies, and plain water. http://iptk.moh.gov.my/images/technical_report/2020/4_Infographic_Booklet_NHMS_2019_-_English.pdf
3. Malaysia Food Pyramid 2020. Ministry of Health Malaysia. Nutrition Division. http://nutrition.moh.gov.my/piramid-makanan-malaysia-2020-mendidik-rakyat-mengambil-makanan-dengan-betul/