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In nature, certain fibers predominate in different seasons to deliver specific and timely health benefits. This winter, make sure you board the right fiber train to boost digestive function and support immunity.
There is soluble fiber, which expands and becomes slimy in water, like oatmeal and psyllium. Think winter! Most soluble fibers predominate in the winter and naturally antidote the cold, dry qualities of winter.
Then there is insoluble fiber, which does not break down in water, such as vegetable cellulose – think spring and summer! Green veggies are cooling and provide roughage to take toxins and heat out of the body in the spring and summer, when it is needed the most.
Both soluble and insoluble fiber are not digestible by the body, meaning they do not break down during their passage through the digestive tract.
A Fiber for Each Purpose
We are told that if you want to lose weight, support heart health, or balance blood sugar, eat more soluble fiber, such as heart-healthy whole grains found in Cheerios.
On the other hand, if you are constipated, feeling toxic, bloated from overeating, or just want to scrub the intestinal wall, we are told to eat more insoluble fiber in the form of vegetable roughage to boost intestinal motility.
The Skinny: Soluble Fiber
When soluble fiber mixes with water, it becomes slimy and lubricating for the gut. Metamucil is a popular name brand of a mostly soluble fiber product.
Soluble fiber is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, grains, peas and some fruits and veggies like okra and Brussels sprouts.
- Binds with fatty acids and bile in the gut, which attach to lipids and toxins and escorts them to the toilet.
- Becomes gel-like in the gut and slows the digestion of fats and sugars in the intestines.
- Supports healthy cholesterol for optimal heart health.
- Regulates digestion and absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.
Notice in the soluble food list above that most of them are late-season fall harvested foods for winter eating. This is one of nature’s strategies to insulate the gut from the coldness and dryness of winter by soothing, warming and lubricating the intestinal walls. So when the cold sets in, be sure to enjoy a warm bowl of oats and have a pot of lentils ready for dinner.
The Skinny: Insoluble Fiber
Insoluble fiber does not mix with water and generally moves through the gut intact, acting as bulk and scrubbing the intestinal wall. Think of vegetable roughage.
Insoluble fiber is found mostly in vegetable cellulose, but also makes an appearance in wheat bran, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and the skins of root and ground vegetables.
- Tends to speed up the passage of food through the stomach and intestines, adding needed bulk to the stool.
- Also in charge of maintaining the proper pH of the gut, which regulates the balance of good bacteria in the gut.
- Promotes regular bowel movements.
- Removes toxic waste from the colon in less time.
- Scrubs the villi of the intestines.
- Helps maintain an optimal pH in the intestines to prevent undesirable microbes from producing toxic substances.
Insoluble fiber is ample in the spring and summer harvests when fresh fruits and veggies abound. It does keep a low but steady appearance throughout the fall and winter, tucked away in hearty greens that can handle the frost. Thus, it’s important to have some insoluble fiber at all times to ensure the health of the colon, but when winter sets in, we can substitute some of our roughage for gut-lubricating soluble fibers.
Note: Most fiber-rich foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. The concentration varies from food to food. Apples, for instance, contain soluble fiber in the form of pectin in their flesh, and insoluble fiber in the skin.