Plant fiber is the macronutrient that 95% of Americans just don’t get enough of, even though it has the potential to transform human health and the foodsystems we all rely on.
Defined as “dietary material containing substances such as cellulose, lignin, and pectin, that are resistant to the action of digestive enzymes,” fiber is popularly seen as a boring necessity. However, with new insights into why it is so good for our bodies, and new methods being developed to harness its environment-saving potential, it’s becoming clear that fiber is a planetary superfood.
There are two basic types of dietary fiber, and they both come from the cell walls of plants. Described on a cellular level, dietary fibers include non-starch polysaccharides and lignin, which is a complex polymer of phenylpropane units, and chemically complex polysaccharides.
At its more basic, dietary fiber is considered to be soluble fiber, which is found in foods like legumes, grains, and fruits, dissolves in water, and is helpful for lowering blood glucose levels and blood cholesterol, and insoluble fiber, which is found in whole grains and many fruits and vegetables, doesn’t dissolve in water, and helps the digestive system function, preventing constipation and related problems.
Fiber Supports Human Physical and Mental Health
Fiber is a carbohydrate, which is one of the three key macronutrients that humans need for energy (the others are fat and protein). However, fiber is a nutrient that we actually can’t fully digest, because the human body doesn’t have the necessary digestive enzymes to break it down. Instead, fiber moves through our bodies largely undigested — which is what gives it health benefits, as it helps our bodies regulate our intake of sugars and other nutrients.
When we eat fiber, our systems can more readily balance our consumption of sugars, proteins, and fats — all of which we tend to choose more often than fiber-containing foods. The Mayo Clinic suggests women should eat 21–30 grams of fiber a day, and men should eat 30 to 40 grams of fiber a day, but reports that most Americans only consume 15 grams a day, on average.
If we don’t get enough fiber, the excess sugar, carbohydrates, and proteins we consume can lead to health problems like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Researchers confirm that a high-fiber diet is correlated with lower instances of these diseases.
Finally, one of the most interesting reasons to ensure we’re getting enough fiber is its connection with mental health. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine explain there is an established connection between the enteric nervous system, which controls digestion, and the brain. They report that problems in the gastrointestinal system may actually trigger mood changes by sending signals to the brain, which suggests that maintaining better gastrointestinal health can help people protect their mental health as well.
Fortunately, fiber is readily available in many foods, and agricultural plant fiber — an abundant and renewable source of fiber — goes underutilized around the world. At The Supplant Company, we’re unlocking that abundance to create sugars from fiber — a new ingredient that lets you enjoy the foods you love, while supporting a healthy diet and a healthy planet.
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