Fiber is everyone’s least favorite Macronutrient to discuss. Why? It is confusing. If you ask most people what are the Macronutrients, you will get a list of: “Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates.” The problem is this ignores some important Macronutrients, namely Fiber.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is a type of Carbohydrate. Not only do Carbohydrates have multiple sub sets (Complex and Simple), it also has another category which the body cannot break down. All you really need to know is a Carbohydrate is Fiber if the body cannot break it down into a sugar. This means Fiber is a Carbohydrate your body cannot digest.
Fiber is commonly found in plants such as grains, legumes, and vegetables. Unlike carbohydrates, Fiber has little use as energy since it is not digested. Instead, it travels in large part intact through the digestive tract.
Fiber comes in two forms. One is Soluble Fiber, the other is Insoluble Fiber.
The Difference Between Soluble and Insoluble
Back to why this is everyone’s least favorite Macronutrient. First is the fact it is a carbohydrate, and that makes it difficult to understand and explain. Second is the definition. Fiber is just a carbohydrate which cannot be digested into a sugar. The problem is, not all Fiber is created equal. And some is slightly broken down, and then combines with cholesterol in your stomach.
This not so – indigestible Fiber is Soluble Fiber. Soluble Fiber is the form of Fiber which breaks down slightly in your stomach and combines with cholesterol in your stomach to create a gel. This is exactly what you imagine when you think of Metamucil. The gritty fiber mixes with liquid, turns into a paste, and help expel waste from your stomach.
The technical definition of Soluble means to dissolve in water. Soluble Fiber breaks down slightly in your stomach. When it binds to food in your stomach, it makes it slow down expulsion through your digestive system. This is the Fiber trick for weight loss. Some Fiber with a glass of water will fill you up. Metamucil is designed to be more gel like and specifically keep you from being hungry.
What is the difference then?
Although not completely metabolized, Soluble Fiber is somewhat digested by the bacteria in the colon. This is the main health benefit of Soluble Fiber. It helps stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria and fatty acids in your colon. This may sound familiar to you. Most people think of Fiber as Metamucil (And so do I) but that is only half the reality. The other half is Fiber is also a Prebiotic. Not to be confused with Probiotics, they are both part of the same family.
Prebiotics are Soluble Fiber. They serve a role to help healthy bacterial growth in your stomach and colon. In fact, when on antibiotics, Prebiotics are often prescribed to help repopulate your system with healthy bacteria.
Soluble Fiber would be found in every example of Fiber you can think of. Metamucil, Fiber Pills, Fiber Supplements included. As would beans, peas, oats, broccoli, carrots, almonds, and well, a lot of things. If it is a vegetable, fruit, nut or grain, it most likely has some Soluble Fiber in it.
What about Insoluble Fiber
Insoluble means to not break down in water. This means Insoluble Fiber is just Fiber which does not break down and bind with water. It does bounce around your colon, damaging it. But research shows this is required for cell turn over. Basically, Insoluble Fiber damages your intestines and colon to allow your body to heal.
This is not good for weight loss but is great for digestive health. This promotes regularity and a healthy stool. You need Insoluble Fiber, but just like Soluble Fiber, you can find it in fibrous vegetables, nuts, and grains. Since Insoluble Fiber does not directly help with weight loss, this is all you need to know.
Fibers Long Term Health Benefits
Coincidentally, Fiber is directly associated with many obesity induced disorders. First up would be Metabolic Syndrome. Or a nasty combination of high insulin levels, high blood pressure, and obesity. Tufts University performed a study determining that whole grains, and specifically, Fiber and Magnesium helps fight Metabolic Syndrome.
Additionally, Fiber is shown to reduce blood pressure, bad cholesterol levels, and improve blood sugar regulation. This brings us to the next big disorder Fiber helps fight, Type 2 Diabetes. This type of Diabetes is known for high blood sugar levels accompanied by the body being unable to properly produce enough insulin or use the produced insulin to combat the increased high blood sugar. You guessed it, Fiber is proven to reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
Last up would be the silent killer, Heart Disease. Heart Disease is caused by high cholesterol levels. These high cholesterol levels fill up your arteries and can clog, which causes a heart attack. This is the leading cause of death in the United States. Once again, Fiber directly helps reduce the risk of Heart Disease. Fiber, in general, will help fight the most common ailments of western society.
Weight Loss Benefits of Fiber
Here is where we shatter the myth(s) of the diet and weight loss industry. Fiber does have calories. It is a carbohydrate. It contains four calories per gram. This is a huge issue for dieters. Why? In the UK, for example, food labels until recently did not count calories in Fiber. As in, everything you ate would contain more calories than you thought. In fact, research shows up to 25% more calories.
This is the cause of some studies showing a direct correlation between people eating a high Fiber diet weighing more weight than those who eat a low-calorie diet. It is not because people who eat a lot of Fiber are not as healthy, it is that the food industry is in large part lying about what you are consuming. This vast discrepancy allows for all food labels to call some food ‘Low Calorie’ or ‘Healthy’ due to calorie count per serving.
What Food Hides Fiber Calories?
This is common with grains such as cereal. Since the high grain oat cereal is packed with Fiber (Or Fibre in the UK) does not count, you are really eating a lot more calories than you think. This is also why Metamucil is bad for weight loss. Technically it is good, but it is a food. It does contain calories. Despite what the label says.
Most recently, the FDA has put out an estimate that Fiber contributes between 1.5 and 2 calories per gram. This is an average, and an estimate, but is close to my personal findings as well. You get more bang for your caloric buck when you have a diet containing high fiber food. But they still contain calories.
To get the most weight loss benefit from fiber, keep some simple guidelines in mind. Always count calories in fiber. These calories should be at least two calories per gram. This is most likely why you can’t lose weight on a regular diet. Never drink your Fiber. Not Metamucil, a smoothie, or a shake. Avoid drinking any calories, but especially when you are more likely to not count them. Do not count Fiber as a supplement. Fiber is a carbohydrate. It is a food you eat, not a pill you should take. Lastly, aim for at least 14 grams of Fiber per 1,000 calories consumed per day.
Find all the resources used in this article and the scientific basis of all our article at The Science Behind Fitness.