Soluble fiber represents one half the team known commonly as fiber. Together with insoluble dietary fiber, it has many important functions. We’ll cover some of the benefits of soluble dietary fiber in this article, how it works in our body, the importance of good bowel bacteria in relation to it, and some surprising sources of insoluble fiber.
Fiber has been studied well enough in relation to disease prevention that the FDA has approved health claims about its’ benefits for heart disease prevention. Foods or products that naturally have 0.6g of soluble fiber per amount referenced qualify for this claim. This highlights how crucial soluble fiber is in relation to insoluble.
Other benefits of soluble fiber are that it may help lower blood cholesterol levels, assist those with non-insulin dependant diabetes, as well as people with inflammatory bowel disorders (such as colitis), or diarrhea, and constipation. Whilst it may seem contradictory that one thing can help with the opposite problems of constipation and diarrhea, soluble fiber does this by acting as a regulatory mechanism. It forms a gel in the body, including the colon, and when a person has diarrhea the gel adds bulk and slows the transit time. When a person has constipation, the more liquid nature of the gel makes the hardened stools softer, provided enough fluid is drunk.
Soluble fiber has an interesting characteristic in that it is fermented in the colon. This occurs through the activities of the beneficial bacteria that naturally exist there. Problems can potentially arise if the population of beneficial bacteria is depleted. These bacteria produce gas and short chain fatty acids from soluble fiber, and it is the short chain fatty acids that provide some of these considerable benefits. Fortunately, soluble fiber helps increase the population of good bacteria in the bowel.
The short chain fatty acids are the reason soluble fiber is helpful in stabilizing blood glucose levels. They also reduce levels of the ‘bad’ cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, both implicated in heart disease. And they provide additional benefits by lowering the rate of cholesterol synthesis by the liver.
Most people do not consume enough dietary fiber – either soluble or insoluble. And whilst legumes, grains, fruit and vegetables are well known sources of fiber, scientists are turning up some surprising sources. Recent research revealed that a cup or coffee is a source of soluble fiber, despite previously being believed to have none. It contains 0.47 to 0.75 grams of soluble fiber per 100ml, so there are richer sources. However, the results are very interesting, especially when you consider that most people drink a cup with at least 200ml, or more likely in the range of 250ml, per drink. At 250 ml, that puts a cup of coffee in the range of 1.16 to 1.88 grams of soluble fiber. Depending on how much coffee you drink in a day, that does add up.
Instant coffee came out a winner as well, as it’s a greater source than filter or brewed coffee.
Soluble fiber is important for the maintenance of health, as well as being a credible, natural treatment for those troubled by some forms of diabetes, cholesterol, and bowel problems. Unfortunately, most healthy people don’t take enough fiber in their diet, which potentially increases their risk for illness later on. And whilst soluble fiber has many benefits, insoluble fiber is still a critical part of our diet as well. Fortunately, there are many known sources of fiber, and coffee can now be added to that list!