Today, Friday, February 15, 2019

Fiber- It's More Important Than You Think

Dietary fiber is perhaps best known for its ability to prevent constipation. But did you know that fiber offers many other health benefits as well, such as lowering your risk for diabetes and heart disease?

Fiber, sometimes known as roughage or bulk, refers to all parts of plant food that your body can't absorb or digest.  Unlike fats, proteins or carbohydrates, fiber isn't broken down or absorbed by the body.

Fiber is a special type of carbohydrate that is not digested, absorbed or used by the body for fuel or building body tissue. Fiber was, until relatively recently, all but ignored by the scientific community at large.  Unlike most carbohydrates, fiber passes through the human digestive system virtually unchanged.  For a long time it was considered almost extraneous to our nutritional needs.  

More recent studies however have determined fiber's positive value.  Findings have been significant enough that one of the Dietary Guidelines encourages significant daily intake of fiber. 

Fiber is often classified into two categories.  Those that don't dissolve into water are known as insoluble fiber.  Those that do dissolve in water are known as soluble fiber. 

Insoluble fiber increases the movement of material through your digestive system.  This is of great benefit to those who suffer from constipation or irregular stools. 

Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.

What Can Fiber Do For Me?

In recent years the need for fiber has been widely emphasized from the family doctor's office to television commercials for cereal.   

On a dietary level fiber can do several very important things, including:

* Combating Obesity: Because fiber adds bulk to what you eat it, can make the food you eat more satisfying, most likely due to it staying in the stomach longer. Foods that are high in fiber also must be chewed more thoroughly. All of this also slows down the eating process and contributes to a feeling of being full.  These fiber benefits result in one eating slower, and eating less, which in turn can help prevent obesity.

*Regulates Blood Sugar: Fiber also slows digestion down.  This causes the glucose in food to enter the bloodstream more gradually, keeping blood sugar on a more even level

* KeepsYour Colon Healthy: Fiber is broken down by bacteria in the main part of the large intestine, commonly known as the colon.  This process, known as fermentation, produces simple organic acids, which nourish the lining of the colon.  These same acids also have an important role in metabolism and provide fuel for the rest of the body as a whole.

* Prevents Constipation: Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool as well as softening it.  Having bulkier, easy to pass stools, decreases the occurrence of constipation.  If you have loose, watery, difficult to pass stools, it may be a sign that you may lack fiber in your diet.

* Lowers Your Risk of Digestive Disorders: Having a fiber rich diet lowers your risk of specific digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticular syndrome.

* May Reduce Cancer: There is inconclusive evidence that fiber can reduce colorectal cancer.  Some studies show a benefit, some studies show none, and some show a greater risk.  At this point in time, where colorectal cancer is concerned, fiber is certainly no substitute for a regular screening and testing regimen.

Where Do I Find Fiber?

So now that you know how fiber can help you, the next logical question is, where do you find it?  If you aren't getting enough fiber and want to boost your daily intake, whole foods rather than fiber supplements are generally the better option

Some of the best natural sources of dietary fiber are grains and whole grain products, fruits and vegetables, beans, peas and other legumes, as well as nuts and seeds.  Bran has the highest fiber count of all foods, consisting of between 25-45%. 

Fiber occurs only in plant foods, so if your diet is primarily meat and dairy, you might have to make some subtle lifestyle shifts to make room for fiber.

Nowadays with our high fat, protein and simple carb diets, Americans eat only 10% of the fiber we did 100 years ago.  A good, healthy diet should contain 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day.  The average American consumes less than half of that. 

It may not be entirely our fault however.  At the turn of the last century there was a change in the way that wheat was processed into flour, from a crushing to a fine rolling process.   This is thought to account for a substantial depletion in our daily intake of dietary fiber. 

When foods are processed, fiber is often removed.  Any food made from white flour, such as pizza crust, white bread or regular pasta, is a poor source of fiber.  In general the less processed a food is, the more fiber it is likely to contain.  But take care, as some high fiber foods, such as breakfast cereals and convenience foods, are also high in sugar and salts.  So remember to always read the labels.

The Last Word on Fiber Supplements vs. Whole Foods

Fiber supplements only provide a very restricted type of fiber.  A diet of high fiber foods generally incorporates various kinds of fiber, which is better for you.  Fruits, vegetables and oats are good sources of soluble fiber.  Whole grains, bran, and legumes are good sources of insoluble fiber.  Some specific examples of good fiber source fruits and vegetables are: apples, beans, berries, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, figs, oranges, pears, peas and prunes.  Other good fiber source foods include bran muffins, brown rice, multi-grain cereals, oatmeal, popcorn, and whole wheat bread.

Remember that while whole foods are always the best option for getting your fiber, supplements are certainly better than no fiber at all. 

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