What is dietary fiber?Vegetables, fruits, and cereals contain sugars, starches, and complex carbohydrates. Sugars and starches are easily digested. Saliva contains amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starches into digestible sugars. Complex carbohydrates may consist of resistant starch, as well as soluble and insoluble fiber. Resistant starch is not easily broken down into its component sugars, and thus, has a lower Glycemic Index, which is the rate at which the sugar from carbohydrates is released into the body. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains.
Soluble and insoluble fiber are completely indigestible and pass through the body basically unchanged, except that soluble fiber can be fermented by microorganisms in the large intestine. These colonic bacteria produce vitamins and short-chain fatty acids that are absorbed by the intestine and have beneficial effects. Soluble fiber also binds bile acids produced by the liver to aid digestion and prevents the bile acids from being re-absorbed, thus lowering cholesterol. Oatmeal and oat cereals reduce cholesterol by this mechanism.
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