Dietary fiber and whole grains contain a unique blend of bioactive components including resistant starches, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. As a result, research regarding their potential health benefits has received considerable attention in the last several decades. Epidemiological and clinical studies demonstrate that intake of dietary fiber and whole grain is inversely related to obesity, type two diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Defining dietary fiber is a divergent process and is dependent on both nutrition and analytical concepts. The most common and accepted definition is based on nutritional physiology. Generally speaking, dietary fiber is the edible parts of plants, or similar carbohydrates, that are resistant to digestion and absorption in the small intestine. Dietary fiber can be separated into many different fractions. Recent research has begun to isolate these components and determine if increasing their levels in a diet is beneficial to human health. These fractions include arabinoxylan, inulin, pectin, bran, cellulose, β-glucan and resistant starch. The study of these components may give us a better understanding of how and why dietary fiber may decrease the risk for certain diseases. The mechanisms behind the reported effects of dietary fiber on metabolic health are not well established. It is speculated to be a result of changes in intestinal viscosity, nutrient absorption, rate of passage, production of short chain fatty acids and production of gut hormones. Given the inconsistencies reported between studies this review will examine the most up to date data concerning dietary fiber and its effects on metabolic health.
Keywords: fiber; arabinoxylan; bran; cardiovascular; cellulose; diabetes; inulin; obesity; pectin; β-glucan resistant starch.