Fiber & Why it is Marvelous: Part Three (Insoluble)

It takes two to tango, and soluble’s dance partner is the rugged insoluble fiber. With words like roughage, tough, and coarse used to describe it, I like to think of insoluble fiber as the dark-side yang to soluble’s yin. Together, they are a powerful force for good health.

If you’ve been feeling a little clogged up lately, insoluble fiber will be your new best friend. Its specialty is promoting movement of materials through your gastrointestinal tract. Granted, everyone’s degree of bowel regularity differs, as genetics and other lifestyle factors also influence this. However, if you get the recommended daily amount of insoluble fiber, along with regular exercise and lots of water, your new nickname may just be Old Faithful.

Insoluble fiber’s most recent claim to fame is its potential to help combat health issues that are becoming worrisome in the United States: obesity and type 2 diabetes. This tough stuff that gives food its shape may be life saving, in many ways. Let’s dig into this further…

Insoluble fiber can make up the protective casing of food. The perfect example is a kernel (or the seed) of grain. Looking at the kernel is reminiscent of a Russian Matryoshka doll. You know the ones, the colorfully painted wooden figurines that when cracked open contain a smaller version of the lady inside. Crack that one open and you’ll find another, then another, and another. The outer casing of a kernel is called the bran, followed by the endosperm, and then the germ.

When a grain is refined, they crush and shift away the bran and germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm. You guessed it, removing the best source of fiber (gasp!). Rather, let’s say we kept that kernel whole, bran and all. If you were to eat it, your digestive juices would have to mangle the casing in order to get to the goods that can be used as energy (we know them as calories). This takes time, and really puts your body to work.

The benefit is, if the energy found inside the kernel is coming from carbohydrate, instead of having a rush of broken down carbohydrate to your system (known as serum glucose), it is going to be delivered more slowly, bit by bit. Unless you plan on using this energy to sprint laps what’s the rush? Tell the carbohydrate it needs to relax. One thing I want to point out is that we often hear the word sugar in place of glucose, but really, they are referring to the same thing. I am going to say glucose because I want you to be familiar with the terminology.

Imagine you are working the front desk at a business. What would you prefer, customers to come in steadily throughout the day, or for the business to be completely idle until there is a mad rush an hour before you are scheduled to leave. The decision is easy, and your body thinks so too.

I could really go off at this point about how continually sending rushes of glucose to the blood stream can wreak havoc on your health, but I’m going to have to stay the course. Essentially, in type 2 diabetes the body is not able to take care of the glucose that comes in like it used to. I am not going to simplify the disease, there are various complex reasons why serum glucose levels can spike, but what you eat definitely plays a role.

In a fully functioning body, after food with carbohydrate is eaten the body would see the resulting glucose, think “hey, new energy!” and send workers to transfer it to the cell to be used. With type 2 diabetes, the body looks at the glucose, realizes that some of the workers are running late or quit, and thinks “eh, I don’t feel like dealing with you right now.” The sticky glucose stays in the blood stream, effects blood flow, scratches up artery walls, and is an utter nuisance. I don’t want you to have the wrong idea. You need some serum glucose; it’s very important for your body to operate. You just want it in a controlled fashion.

Next, on to the topic that at one point or another seems to come into everybody’s mind: weight. First, insoluble fiber helps a person maintain a healthy weight in the obvious way. Since it takes longer to break down a food with fiber, the body will have a feeling of fullness for an extended period of time. Therefore, causing the person to want to eat less.

The American Nutrition and Dietetic Association (known as AND) released a position paper heralding the benefits of fiber. It was published in 2008, with the latest version up for revision as we speak (still waiting on that, but given that I just praised fiber for slowing things down, perhaps I should be patient too). However, the information is still relevant. Regarding weight management, they reported that research reveals:

-       Eating insoluble fiber takes longer to chew causing you to slow down. While you chomp away, your saliva and digestive juices build up to take on the incoming food. Your stomach gets the memo and begins to expand, resulting in a feeling of fullness.

-       Fiber doesn’t completely go alone. It takes nutrients hostage as it travels through the small intestine. This means a few of the calories you ate will opt to go along for the ride instead of being absorbed.

The proof is in the pudding. This same position paper cites numerous studies that show a person who consumed more fiber each day generally had a lower body weight. The average effect of increasing dietary fiber across all the studies reviewed showed that when a person ate 14 extra grams of fiber per day over the period of about 3.8 months, they on average ate 10% less calories, and therefore lost 4.2 pounds. Pretty nice considering you are adding something to your diet and not taking it away.

As I begin to wrap this article up, I am going to conclude with something no one wants: hemorrhoids. To take preventative steps, increase your insoluble fiber now. Without enough bulk in the stool more strain is needed to pass a bowel movement. Visualize this, when a body builder lifts heavy weight it looks like the blood vessels in their forehead could explode. Well, your poor rectum and anus feel like this when enough fiber isn’t around to make its job easier.

Finally, tips for the wise: increase your daily intake gradually. Count how much fiber you are eating right now, and then add 2 or 3 grams the next day. Increasing your intake too fast can cause bloating, stomach discomfort and urgency to go the bathroom. Repeat this practice at a comfortable pace until you are getting the recommended daily amount of 25 to 38 grams each day.


Start today by adding some of these foods to your meals and snacks:


Food:                                      Total Fiber:                Of that, grams that are Insoluble:

½ cup cooked Barley               4 grams                      3 grams

½ cup Garbanzo Beans            4 grams                      3 grams

½ cup Lentils                          5 grams                      4 grams

½ cup cooked Corn                 2 grams                      2 grams

½ cup Spinach                        2 grams                      1 gram

½ cup Broccoli                        3 grams                      2 grams

1 medium Pear w/ skin            4 grams                      2 grams

1 medium Apple w/ skin          3 grams                      2 grams

1 cup Blueberries                    2 grams                      2 grams

¼ cup raw Almonds                3 grams                      2 grams

½ cup Sunflower Seeds          3 grams                      2 grams


Not only are these foods beneficial, but they taste great too. Enjoy your daily fiber endeavors!

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*All dietary fiber facts taken from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation online website. Copyright 1995-2010.