Judging by the commercials on TV, food companies have finally realized that fiber is a healthy addition to a good diet. It is about time.
While it is no miracle food, failure to get enough in your food can lead to a number of health problems.
Among the health benefits of are:
- Relieving constipation and hemorrhoids
- Preventing certain diseases
- Keeping weight under control
Fiber absorbs large amounts of water in the bowels, and this makes stools softer and easier to pass. Anyone starting a higher-fiber diet will notice the difference in stool bulk and in almost all cases, increasing fiber in the diet will relieve constipation within hours or days.
Because stools are easier to pass, less straining is necessary, and this can help relieve hemorrhoids.
By improving the solidity and bulk of solid waste it also helps to keep those who are aging more regular, less constipated. The result, supported by many studies, is (among other benefits) a reduction in the odds of colon cancer.
Insoluble fiber, so-called because it doesn't dissolve readily in water, can be found in nuts, wheat bran, whole grains and many vegetables. But there's another kind called, not surprisingly, soluble fiber. As the name suggests it does dissolve readily in water. It, too, has benefits.
The soluble variety is found in citrus fruit like oranges and lemons, apples, beans, oats and barley grain. Among its other virtues, studies strongly suggest that some soluble fibers (beta glucan) can help reduce cholesterol.
Getting enough in the diet can lower the risk of developing certain health conditions:
- Heart disease. Evidence is now growing to support the notion that foods containing soluble fiber can have a positive influence on cholesterol, triglycerides, and other particles in the blood that affect the development of heart disease. Some fruits and vegetables (such as citrus fruits and carrots) have been shown to have the same effect. Soluble fiber is made up of polysaccharides (carbohydrates that contain three or more molecules of simple carbohydrates), and it does dissolve in water. (such as oats, rye barley, and beans)
- Cancer. The consumption of fiber speeds up the passage of food through the body. Some experts believe this may prevent harmful substances found in some foods from affecting the colon and may protect against colon cancer. Other types of cancer that may be prevented by a fiber-rich diet include breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer.
- Diabetes. Adding fiber to the diet helps regulate blood sugar levels, which is important in avoiding diabetes. In addition, some people with diabetes can achieve a significant reduction in their blood sugar levels and may find they can reduce their medication or do without it altogether.
- Diverticular disease is a range of conditions that develop from the presence of one of more small pouches that protrude out of the normally smooth wall of the colon; these pouches can become inflamed and cause symptoms that include abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea, and bleeding from the rectum.. Diverticular disease is a condition in which small pouches, called diverticula, develop in the wall of the colon. In a small percentage of people, these diverticula become inflamed or infected, a condition known as diverticulitis. Diverticular disease can cause pain, diarrhea, constipation, and other problems. Generally, this condition is caused from being in a continuous state of constipation, so the way to prevent it is to move the food through the system efficiently.
- Gallstones and kidney stones. Rapid digestion leads to a rapid release of glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream. To cope with this, the body has to release large amounts of insulin into the bloodstream, and this can make a person more likely to develop gallstones and kidney stones (in addition to diabetes and high cholesterol). Additional fiber in the diet will slow digestion and lessen the effects of insulin.
But, as with every other aspect of diet, it's best to have everything in the proper proportion. What is that, in the case of fiber? The recommended consumption for the average adult over 50 years of age is 21g for women and 30g for men. For those under 50 the amounts are 25g for women, 38g for men.
Of course, that's only an average (for men about 170lbs, women around 120lbs). You'll want to consult tables to find out the needed amounts for your weight. There are those rare individuals who are sensitive to certain foods and they will need to seek out sources that suit their particular circumstances.
But, as a rough starting point, there are several common foods that will be right for most.
A cup of raisin bran cereal has 7g of fiber, and is usually manufactured with helpful vitamins as well. A cup of oatmeal is a good source, even though it only contains 4g. A half-cup of cooked black beans contains about 7.5g. A half-cup of tomato paste has nearly 6g, while a half-cup of cooked Lima beans has nearly 7g.
Bran muffins have been touted as a good source, and that's true, they are. But many also are high in fat and sugar, so exercise moderation and seek out a low-fat type. A couple dozen peanuts can also be a good source, but here again they are high in fat. Control the urge to get large amounts of fiber from them. You don't want to pile on the calories when getting needed nutrients.
Many fruits are a good source, including raspberries (1/2 cup contains 5.5g), blackberries (1/2 cup has 3.8g) and apples (3.3g per apple). Even pumpkin is a good source (3.5g in 1/2 cup), but this too can be a source high in fat and sugar, if it's in the form of pumpkin pie.
A slice of bread has 2g, so the average sandwich will supply 4g. But be sure to get whole grain bread, not the ultra-processed white. The flour used to make white bread is ground so finely that the fiber is destroyed.
Put both soluble and insoluble fiber in your diet and be good to yourself. Try 1 1/2 teaspoons of psyllium husks mixed in a glass of water each night and I guarantee you will see and feel the difference.
For more on a high fiber diet, read this article.