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Dietary Fiber

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Many health experts are advising people of all ages to consume more dietary fiber. Much research suggest that fiber may prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.


There is more to fiber than crunch. What Grandma calls roughage, scientists know as fiber. Fiber is an undigestable complex carbohydrate found in plants. Fiber is not a single food or substance. Fiber in itself has no calories because the body cannot absorb it. Therefore, high fiber foods low in fat are low in calories such as fruits and vegatables. Fiber can be divided into two categories according to their physical characteristics and effects on the body: Water insoluble and water soluble. Each form functions differently and provides different health benefits. Insoluble fibers, such as cellulose, hemicellulose and lingnin, do not dissolve in water. Soluble fibers, such as gum and pectin, do dissolve in water.


If you have been doctoring your with bran in the hopes of getting fiber's benefits, what you are mostly getting are larger, softer stools. This kind of fiber "bulks up" waste and moves it through the colon more rapidly, preventing constipation and possibly colon cancer. The trickiest accomplishments of fiber may lie with the stickiest kinds called gums and pectins, as they may keep cholesterol under control by removing bile acids that digest fat. The same types of fiber may regulate blood sugar as well. This is accomplished by coating the gut's lining and delaying stomach emptying. As a result, they can slow sugar absorption after a meal and may reduce the amount of insulin needed. Fiber is a weight watchers dream since fibers called cellulose and hemicelluloses take up space in the stomach, making us feel full, therefore food intake is less.


Insoluble Fiber: Fruits, vegetables, dried beans, wheat bran, seeds, popcorn, brown rice, and whole grain products such as breads, cereals, and pasta. Soluble Fiber: Fruits such as apples, oranges, pears, peaches, and grapes; vegetables, seeds, oat bran, dried beans, oatmeal, barley and rye. Prunes are also high in soluble fiber. Today's pitted prunes are moist and convenient -- an excellent snack and a great way to get more natural fiber into the diet.


Although fiber is not considered an essential nutrient, the U.S. Surgeon General and many professional health organizations recommend a diet containing 20-35 grams of fiber a day. The average American diet barely consumes half of this amount with an intake of 10-15 grams daily. Increasing the comsumption of complex carbohydrates is the best way to increase fiber intake. A large increase in fiber over a short period of time may result in bloating, diarrhea, gas and general discomfort. It is important to add fiber gradually over a period of time (3 weeks) to avoid abdominal problems.

Remember to increase the amount of both kinds of fiber. Below are some tips to help:

Choose fresh fruit or vegetables rather than juice.

Eat the skin and membranes of cleaned fruits and vegetables.

Choose bran and whole grain breads / cereals daily.

An increase in fiber should be accompanied by an increase in water.

Eat less processed foods and more fresh ones.

It is better to get fiber from foods rather than fiber supplements as foods are more nutritious.

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