Fiber the Fantastic!

Posted by on August 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm :: 5 Comments

I think most of us understand the role of fiber in keeping our visits to the bathroom regular but many of us seem to overlook the other numerous wonders of this fabulous filler. A recent survey sponsored by Kellogg’s revealed that Americans hold incredibly incorrect opinions about the sources and benefits of fiber. I am mystified as to where people are getting this really, really wrong information. That’s why I felt compelled to write this post and add my own extremely accurate facts to the mix.

Over 90% of Americans don’t get the amount of fiber in their diets recommended by the USDA. We aren’t eating enough fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains. Instead, most people seem to be chowing more than their share of snack foods, simple carbohydrates, and meat. But, according to the Kellogg’s survey, some citizens are under the erroneous impression that hidden somewhere within the greasy depths of their Big Mac is a heap of fiber. Twenty percent of those questioned replied that they thought meats, seafood, and dairy products were good sources of fiber. Talk about wishful thinking! Ten percent of responders even voiced the opinion that water is a good source of fiber. What the what? Before I talk about the benefits of fiber it would appear that I need to take a step back and review some fiber basics.

Fiber only comes from plants, not meat or water. It’s mostly made up of carbohydrates but, unlike other carbs, these babies are not digestible by the human body. (Bacteria in the large intestine, however, do like to nibble on certain kinds of fiber a bit.)

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is essentially the glue that holds plants cells together. Good sources of soluble fiber include: fruit, oats, kidney beans, and barley. Soluble fiber swells or dissolves in water. It attracts water to your intestines and keeps it there. You can probably guess how your bowels benefit from that attribute.

Insoluble fiber forms the outer covering of grains and the structural parts of plants. It does not dissolve in water. Lignin, the stuff that makes pear flesh grainy, is an example of an insoluble fiber. Good sources of insoluble fiber include: broccoli, brown rice, and wheat bran. Insoluble fiber decreases intestinal transit time; it speeds foodstuffs through our systems from one end to the other.

Most people get that fiber can relieve constipation but they don’t seem to understand that it benefits your body far beyond the potty. Fifteen percent of those polled by Kellogg’s thought that they only needed fiber in their diets when they were experiencing irregularity. Hmm? I don’t know where they heard that but it certainly wasn’t from a reliable scientific source.

Studies have suggested that diets high in fiber can reduce the risk of all the big hitters from colon cancer to diabetes. One of these many studies found that men eating 25 g of fiber daily had a 36% lower risk of developing heart disease and those eating 29 g of fiber had a 41% less chance of having a heart attack. Another clinical concluded that women consuming mainly low-fiber carbohydrates were 2.5 times more likely to develop diabetes than those with a high-fiber diet. Further research found that men with type 2 diabetes showed significant improvement of blood glucose and lipid levels when given psyllium (a fiber) twice a day. The risk of colorectal cancer also appears to be decreased by an elevated fiber intake. Several studies have established that societies with a high-fiber consumption have a 30% lower rate of colorectal cancer. Looking to lose weight? Sure, fiber can help with that too. Research has shown that those with low-fiber diets gain 8 pounds more on average over a ten year period than their fiber eating counterparts. I could keep raving about the pros of fiber but I think I need to go chew on some bark now or something.

Ask not what fiber can do for you but what you can do for fiber. Scratch that. Just think about what fiber can do for you.

So how does fiber aid so many of our bodily systems? It’s sort of a mystery to be honest; fiber is full of more surprises than Houdini. Although fiber’s mechanisms of action are not totally understood we do know a few things:

When you eat a meal that contains a lot of fiber, that fiber adds bulk without adding much in the way of calories so you feel fuller and eat less. Additionally, since fiber slows the uptake of glucose and reduces the release of insulin, a high-fiber meal will spike your blood sugar levels more moderately and strain your pancreas less.

There are several theories on why fiber decreases the risk of cancer. Some think it’s because carcinogens (cancer promoting agents) are in contact with the intestinal wall for less time when fiber zooms things through our digestive tract so they have less of an effect on our cells. Others believe that carcinogens become bound to fiber in our guts preventing them from reacting with our bodies. Additional theories involve the acids contained in dietary fiber inducing cancer cell death. In the end the reason isn’t terribly important but the result, improving your chances of avoiding one of the top two lethal cancers, certainly is.

Based off current scientific data and government suggestions the average American should be consuming about 25 g of fiber a day. Are you thinking to yourself right now that you definitely get that much fiber between your daily doses of Ho Hos and potato chips? According to Kellogg’s about 80% of Americans think they are getting at least this amount of fiber in their diets but in reality only about 10% are. Are you one of those blessed 10%? Statistically speaking it’s not likely.

How can you increase the amount of fiber in your diet so you will no longer have to be the president of the Preparation H fan club? Well, about 20 years ago nutritional labeling became a requirement for processed foods but most of us apparently are still not taking advantage of this readily accessible information. Dietary Fiber content is mandatorily listed on almost all food labels; it’s easy to spot right there. Now that you know where to look for fiber totals how much should you be looking for? According to the FDA, a food with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving is considered a good source of fiber and a food with 5 grams or more is an excellent source of fiber. So look for whole grain options, eat a salad, and review your food labels. Foods are a much better source of fiber than supplements, since they also contain other goodies such as antioxidants and phtyonutrients, but, if all else fails, there is always Metamucil. Considering the state your colon is most likely in, you could probably use some.

To get the full scoop on the Kellogg’s survey visit: http://kelloggs.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=327

5 Comments

  • Andrew Jorgensen says:

    The problem is that you nutty scientists decided to call it fiber. “Fiber” is the singular of the colloquial term “fibers” as those that make up thread or paper. And yeah, that’s basically insoluble fiber, but soluble fiber doesn’t resemble that at all. The stuff left stuck between your teeth after eating a steak is more like fiber than oatmeal is. Now we poor ignorant folks are all confused. Thanks, science!

  • Rachel says:

    Andrew,
    You are correct. Fiber is a misnomer. However, we scientists don’t deserve the blame for this one, unlike the whole confusing Vitamin B thing that we totally screwed up.
    You see, “fiber” has been a part of pop culture since the 1800s. A minister by the name of Sylvester Graham, the inventor of the graham cracker, traveled all over the east coast in the 1820s and 1830s preaching about the virtues of fiber. So the term stuck long before the nature and benefits of these substances were properly understood.
    So you can blame your great-great-grandpa but you can’t blame me. 🙂

  • Cam says:

    This is some good blogging! I’m a big fan of “fiber.” I appreciate your efforts to educate America about their lack of fiber and I found your post very comprehensive. Fiber has become and important part of my new diet and I love a heaping bowls of broccoli (in fact I just recently had one). Also, I think it’s important to point out that you can substitute protein for fiber. Just kidding! 😉 Seriously though- excellent info here.

  • Andrew Jorgensen says:

    Ah, Rev Graham. I am a fan of his invention. Not as much the cracker (are you sure he invented that?) as the flour itself (which I am sure he did invent). A brilliant compromise between good useful white flour and sucky to bake with but good for you whole wheat.

  • Rachel says:

    Andrew, he did invent a cracker called the graham cracker but it has been altered over the years into a much less healthy version of what it was originally.
    And Cam, if you like broccoli might I suggest trying broccolini. (It’s often called baby broccoli-though that name isn’t correct.) It’s a natural hybrid between standard broccoli and Chinese broccoli. It has smaller florets, longer stems, and is more tender than broccoli. I can’t get enough of the stuff. I could seriously eat it for every meal. The only problem is that I’ve only found one place that sells it in Utah Valley, the Super Target in Orem. But if you get a chance I would highly recommend giving it a try. It’s excellent when stir-fried with just a tiny bit of oil, some red pepper, and a touch of seasoning salt. Yum!

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