If you want to increase your chances of living a long and healthy life, fiber is an essential nutrient that you should be eating daily.
For many years, considerable research has been conducted on the role of dietary fiber on health and disease. Interest in these investigations was stimulated by epidemiologic studies that associated a low intake of dietary fiber with a number of diseases and physical disorders. Currently, most experts in nutrition and physicians believe dietary fiber is a critical component of a healthy diet.
A meta-analysis of 17 independent studies involving close to one million participants found that every 10 grams of fiber consumed per day cut mortality by 10 %. Another study showed that consuming more fiber lowered the risk of death from all causes. People who ate the most fiber, greater than 30 grams per day, were 22 % less likely to die compared to participants who consumed less that 10 grams per day.
Yet, it is estimated that only 3% of Americans get the recommended amount. The average person consumes 10-15 grams per day and most experts recommend 30-40 grams.
So, what is fiber? Fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, is not a single substance, rather a group of substances that chemically are complex carbohydrates that are typically parts of plant foods that our bodies cannot digest. It is found in the cell walls of plants as well as the pulp and seeds of fruits and nuts. It provides structure and function to plants acting as sort of a plant skeleton. Unlike other food components, such as proteins, fats, and simple carbs, which our body breaks down and absorbs, fiber passes through the gut relatively unchanged. Since it is not digested, it doesn’t provide nutrients or calories.
Fiber is commonly classified as soluble, which dissolves in water, or insoluble, which doesn’t dissolve. Fiber foods usually contain both types in various percentages and the health benefits of the two types has been partially determined but detailing these differences is beyond the scope of this article. Most fiber supplements are water soluble.
Many good scientific studies have shown that a high fiber diet reduces the risk of developing such conditions as heart disease and stroke, diabetes mellitus, diverticulosis of the colon, and some cancers. Also, fiber reduces cholesterol, prevents blood sugar spikes from carb ingestion, and assist with weight control by creating early satiety (feeling of fullness) and decreased total caloric consumption. Fiber tends to act as a prebiotic by assisting in maintenance of a healthy bacterial flora in the colon which is important in long-term gut health, and most folks are aware of the benefit of assisting in bowel regularity.
Among the numerous investigations demonstrating fiber’s benefit on heart health, one of the most impressive was published by Harvard. This study involved 40,000 participants followed for almost 20 years. The findings showed that a high total dietary fiber intake was linked to an astounding 40% reduced risk of coronary heart disease. These findings have been duplicated and confirmed by other quality studies.
We recommend that a chart be obtained that shows the number of grams of fiber in fruits, veggies, and nuts and note the grams of fiber on food labels on packaged food. Strive to consume 30-40 grams per day. Be aware that abruptly increasing dietary fiber intake can cause increased intestinal gas and bloating but if added gradually, these side effects should dissipate.
Here are a few simple tips to get started with increasing dietary fiber: 1) Replace fruit juice by eating whole fruits; 2) Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with brown rice and whole grain breads and pasta; 3) Eat breakfast cereals whose main component is whole grains and consider adding berries; 4) Snack on raw veggies, hummus, nuts and seeds instead of chips, crackers, and candy bars; 5) Substitute legumes (beans) for meat in chili, stews, and soups.
Remember, more fiber is more satisfying and without more calories.
Grab a copy of the Herald Journal next week and we will discuss fiber supplements.
Dr. Tippett is the founder of Comprehensive Quality Healthcare Providers, an internal medicine concierge practice located at 1210 Commerce Dr. Suite 106, Greensboro, GA 30642. He can be reached at 706-510-3659. Visit his webpage at www.drtippett.com