CHICAGO - December 22, 2012 - You never know when you might be asked, “What’s the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber?” To avoid the embarrassment of not knowing, read on.
Insoluble dietary fiber does not dissolve in water. When insoluble fiber makes it to our intestines it is sometimes called roughage, and it helps our colon contents have a swift, smooth passage to the outside world. Soluble fiber, as you might have guessed, does dissolve in water.
Although soluble fiber dissolves, its sugar-bonds do not break down in the intestines making it indigestible (not a food). What soluble fiber does in the colon is sponge-up excess liquid to become gel-like. This colonic slime prevents and treats constipation and diarrhea by greasing the colon’s skids and curbing sudden spasmodic expulsions.
IBS TIP: If your stomach is empty, you may want to eat soluble fiber foods before eating foods with the insoluble type.
Soluble fiber-goo (commonly known as bulk) helps regulate and stabilize the colon’s peristaltic action, bringing relief to many IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) sufferers. The fiber also helps the body maintain stable glucose levels and lower cholesterol.
A healthy diet includes both types of fiber but since the insoluble kind gets food to pass quickly through the colon, too much in the diet is problematic for many people with IBS. Insoluble fiber also causes some of us to feel bloated. The resolution is not to eliminate insoluble fiber from our diet but to eat plenty of soluble fiber foods.
Soluble Fiber Foods
Pasta and noodles (not whole grain)
Fresh white breads (i.e., French, sourdough)
Other excellent soluble choices are sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, beets, chestnuts, mushrooms, squash, pumpkins, bananas, applesauce, mangoes, and papayas.
Many foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. The husks, bran, or hull of cereals and grains contain the insoluble type. Many veggies (i.e., zucchini), fruits (i.e., apples), lentils, and beans contain both fibers as well.
One way to reduce insoluble fiber intake is to peel fruits and veggies. You can also peel the skin off beans but it’s reported to be time-consuming.
IBS TIP: Insoluble fiber foods are “gentler” when they are chopped, pureed, or cooked.
Many people with IBS take fiber supplements as part of their treatment. There are three main types:
1. Psyllium husk fiber is found in the products Metamucil, Fiberall, and Hydrocil. It softens stools and bulks them up which makes it a possible help with constipation or chronic diarrhea. The downside of psyllium is that it can cause bloating and uncomfortable gas. The pluses are its cholesterol lowering properties, it is safe for daily use, and contains no calories.
2. Methylcellulose fiber comes from the non-digestible parts of plants such as the cell wall. This type of fiber is found in Citrucel and is good for bulking up colon contents. It works by absorbing water and because it does not ferment is usually not an instigator of excess gas. This supplement can be used daily.
3. Polycarbophil products are also made from plant parts that absorb liquid to create calming colonic slime. It does not typically cause bloating and is thought to be safe for long term use. Products containing polycarbophil are Fibercon, Fiber-Lax, and Mitrolan.
Dietary fiber intake and fiber supplements should be discussed with your doctor. Even foods that are generally safe for IBS may not work for everyone because of allergies or sensitivities, including problems digesting gluten.
Learn more about what foods to avoid with IBS, and find answers to other IBS questions at Healthline.com.
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