Dietary fiber is found only in plant foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. The amount and kind of fiber varies in different plants. Fiber includes pectin, gum, mucilage, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. All of these are non-starch polysaccharides.

Fiber or dietary fiber is also known as roughage. It is the indigestible part of plant foods that cannot be digested by any of our digestive enzymes.

Dietary fiber is found only in plant foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. The amount and kind of fiber varies in different plants. Fiber includes pectin, gum, mucilage, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. All of these are non-starch polysaccharides.

Dietary fibers are classified into two main groups: soluble or insoluble. Both types of fiber are present in all plant foods, but in varied proportions.

  • Soluble fiber. This type of fiber dissolves in water. It is further divided into two: viscous and non-viscous. The viscous fiber forms a gel-like material when water is added. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium. Soluble fibers are fermentable by the bacteria that reside in our colon. These fibers are metabolized into short chain fatty acids which are the acetate, propionate and butyrate. These SCFA have an important role to play in the host health.
  • Insoluble fiber. This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through the digestive system and increases stool bulk. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.

The daily fiber intake recommended is 30-35 grams for men and 28-30 grams for women. To avail of this amount one has to consume a huge amount of plant material which is not feasible. Based on this understanding the natural plant fibers have been converted to oligosaccharides which can be then taken as a dietary supplement in capsules or tablets or in other varied forms and can be added to a wide variety of food products like cereals, baked products like bread, cookies, beverages etc. These types of fibers are now termed as functional fibers since each one of them is now studied and is associated with a particular health benefit.

Functional fiber is a new term which has come into picture recently. These fibers are isolated oligosaccharides derived from the plant sources and have now been studied for their beneficial physiological properties in animals and humans. Examples of these include fructo-oligosaccharides, galactooligosaccharides, inulin, arabinogalactans, xylooligosaccharides, beta glucans, resistant starches and gums.

Another type of functional fiber which is gaining importance is the beta glucans derived from various medicinal mushrooms and baker’s yeast. Those from mushrooms are water soluble whereas the yeast beta glucans are insoluble.

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