Difference Between Dietary Fiber and Soluble Fiber

Berries in a bowl of muesli
An overhead view of berries in a bowl of oat muesli. (Image: Photosiber/iStock/Getty Images)

Dietary fiber does more than keep your digestion moving. It also may lower your risk for some diseases, including some cancers. There are two kinds of dietary fiber, insoluble and soluble fiber, and many foods actually contain both types. The two types of fiber can benefit your health in different ways -- and according to the National Institutes of Health, most people eat only about half of the 25-plus grams of fiber they should consume daily.

Types of Fiber

Fiber-rich foods are plant-based, complex carbohydrates. They offer multiple health benefits, despite the fact that your body does not digest or absorb the fiber. According to the June 2013 issue of "Nutrients," they also may help you lose weight by helping you feel full. Insoluble fiber -- often called roughage -- enhances digestion and helps keep you “regular.” It’s found in whole grains, seeds, fruits and most vegetables.

Soluble Fiber Benefits

As the name suggests, soluble fiber can dissolve at least partially in water. It’s the type of fiber that appears to offer the most benefits for your cardiovascular health. As the Harvard School of Public Health explains, soluble fiber binds to fatty substances in the intestines and helps the body excrete them, which can lower your LDL or bad cholesterol. A study in the 2012 issue of "Nutrition and Metabolism" reports that consuming soluble fiber may help lower cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk for diabetes by helping to regulate your body’s use of sugars.

Soluble Fiber Foods

Oatmeal and oat bran are good sources of soluble fiber, along with nuts and seeds. You also get soluble fiber in most fruits, including strawberries, blueberries, apples and pears. Legumes are another good source, including beans, split peas and lentils. To make the most of the cholesterol-lowering benefits, aim for three daily servings of these foods.

Importance

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, both types of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble, are important to good health, so instead of focusing on what type you consume, just be sure you get more dietary fiber overall. Try gradually increasing fiber-rich foods by eating more fruits and vegetables and switching to whole grains.

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