Dietary fiber does not contain any nutrients – but is nevertheless essential for the body. Three experts explain why this is the case and why you can also call it “a gentle facial scrub for the inside”
“Useless load, superfluous burden”; is how some languages describe the word “fiber”. However, this definition applies only to a limited extent to fiber. The truth is: it is the parts of the food that contain no nutrients and are simply excreted after the journey through the body. However, they are by no means superfluous or useless.
“Fiber cleanses the body from the inside,” says Hans-Michael Mühlenfeld. He is a general practitioner in Bremen and chairman of the Institute for General Medical Training in the German General Medical Association (IHF). “Basically, the more fiber you eat, the more stool the body produces. A lot of waste products are transported out of the body via the stool.”
Experts distinguish between two types of fiber: water-soluble and water-insoluble. Colloquially, they are also called fine and coarse fiber.
“Water-soluble fibers cross-link in the intestine and form a kind of gel,” says Tessa Rehberg. She is a nutritionist with her own practice in Dresden. “This gel forms the nutritional basis for intestinal bacteria and thus ensures good stool consistency. The intestinal bacteria also care for and protect the intestine from the inside.”
In contrast, water-insoluble fiber simply swells. “Both types of fiber trigger a feeling of satiety in the stomach. Later, in simple terms, they bind waste materials in the intestine and then transport them out of the body,” explains Rehberg.
However, it is important for these processes that the body has enough water available. The German Nutrition Society, therefore, recommends drinking 2 to 2.5 liters of water or unsweetened tea a day.
Especially people who are prone to constipation should keep an eye on their water and fiber balance. “This could be, for example, pregnant women from the 8th month or older people who have reduced bowel movement,” explains Rehberg.
We say: “Eating fiber is like a facial scrub for the inside. The more liquid you use, the gentler it is”
A high-fiber diet also has other advantages: “If you eat enough fiber, you can reduce the risk of colon cancer, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes,” says Prof. Dr. Tilman Grune, Scientific Director at the German Institute for Nutritional Research Potsdam-Rehbrücke. Colon cancer rates are low in many African countries. “We suspect that is related to the high-fiber cuisine there.”
The German Nutrition Society recommends 30 grams of fiber per day. “Most people can only make 10 grams,” says Grune. “Especially if you eat a lot of meat and a few whole grains.”
That is a problem because fiber is only found in plant-based foods, especially whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits.
The amount of fiber a vegetable has in detail is very different. “For example, 100 grams of iceberg lettuce has only 1 gram of fiber, while 100 grams of fennel have 3.3 grams,” says Rehberg. Psyllium, linseed, and oat bran also have a particularly high fiber content. “Here the fiber content is around 40 to 60 percent, while it is just 8 to 12 percent for cereals such as rye or corn,” says Grune.
Psyllium seeds swollen in water are therefore often used as a laxative. “However, it is best if the fiber is not used in a laxative manner, but gets into the body evenly through a balanced, healthy diet,” recommends Mühlenfeld.
The German Nutrition Society does the math: for example, anyone who eats three slices of wholemeal bread a day plus a portion of fruit muesli, two to three medium-sized potatoes, two medium-sized carrots, two kohlrabies, an apple and a bowl of Berries have met their fiber requirements.
“However, it is the very individual – who needs how much of which type of fiber – and also tolerates it,” says Rehberg. So there are people who get along well with many wholegrain products, while others do not. The body and the intestine also change in the course of life. “You just have to test it” says Rehberg.
Anyone who suffers from gas, constipation, or diarrhea despite a balanced diet can omit a certain food group for a fortnight. Rehberg advises, in this case, to divide the vegetables into groups, such as onions and leeks or carrots.
However, if you want to eat a higher-fiber diet in the future, you shouldn’t completely overturn your current menu. Rehberg says: “The intestinal flora is very sensitive and must be getting used step by step to a new diet.” All three experts advise against a drastic change in diet.
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