Fiber 101
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Remember the days when we would roll our eyes when our mothers or grandmothers would ask us if we had our roughage for the day?  What is roughage of the 20th century is known as fiber in the 21st.  I don’t recall hearing as much about “high roughage diets” years ago as you do about “high fiber” diets now.   As you look up all the various health & diet plans to follow out there, fiber is definitely the #1 ingredient needed in any plan.  Yet fiber just doesn’t sound like something you’d want to eat or include.  The rule of thumb for good foods that contain fiber is that plants are the source.  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, anything that had roots and a water system is perfect for your system.

What does dietary fiber mean?
Dietary fiber includes all the complex plant carbohydrates that cannot be digested in the intestine by our digestive enzymes…. 

Basically it’s the part of our food that our bodies can not break down in the small intestines thus entering the colon undigested.  And that is Good!  Once this fiber enters the colon, that local bacteria digest it, adding bulk to the stool and increasing its water and gas content by fermentation.  Some believe that the increase of the bulk of the stool was due to the water holding action of intact fiber, others believe it may be due to the increased bacterial content since these intestinal organisms can and do live on fibrous materials.  (Half of our normal stool is made up of bacteria.)  Fiber can also quicken the transit time and lowers the pressure in the lower colon and may allow the contents to pass through more easily and faster.  Bran is a good example; it is an indigestible husk that is removed from the original grain that is used to produce refined products like white rice and various white flours.   The nice part of increasing your fiber intake is that you increase your sense of fullness while eating which in turn leads to fewer calories which help with weight loss. 

2 types of dietary fibers

Dietary fiber comes in two varieties: soluble and insoluble. This difference basically indicates whether the fiber can be dissolved in water or not.

  • Soluble fiber is also called “gum” fiber because it tends to create a gelatin like substance in the intestines and increases the water content in stool. Soluble fiber is found more in citrus fruits, oats, barley, dried beans and peas.
  • Insoluble fiber mostly comes from bran, the covering of the grain as it grows, and is found in whole grains (wheat, rice, barley, corn). It may also be purchased separately or added to foods like boxed cereals..

Effects of low fiber intake
The most important function of fiber is to assist in the elimination of waste from the intestines by squeezing food through the digestive tract.  The bad news is if we don’t eat the fiber needed then all we eat is absorbed and as a result there is nothing left for the intestines to squeeze.  This will then immediately lead to constipation, causing high pressure in the intestines, which will force little pockets of diverticula to develop.  Do you see how quickly this can snowball?

How do I get fiber?
It really is so very simple, following the basic food group guidelines, and not the one that includes the chocolate and wine group, we can achieve it with the basic 6 -8 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. One fruit serving typically has 3-4 grams of fiber per serving.  Berries are an amazing source of fiber—up to 7 grams per cup. The majority of your favorite vegetables (yes I said favorite and vegetables in the same sentence) will typically have 3-6 grams per cup. Cooked spinach and corn have a bit more lettuce, and tomatoes have very little, so plain salads can’t always account for much. Many dried peas and beans can have over 15 grams of fiber per cup.  Read labels carefully and check out the dietary fiber content on all your favorite breads and cereals you’ll be surprised at how much of your daily intake can be achieved at just breakfast alone. 

Fiber supplements
If for some reason your diet can not accommodate the variety of foods that provide fiber then fiber supplements can be a reasonable alternative. Food is always a better natural source since it supplies important nutrients, but some days we just can’t get what we need.  Fiber supplements are sold in many different forms.  Check with your nutritionist, doctor, or pharmacist for which supplements will work best for you.  Although fiber is important it is just one part of a balanced diet. Sometimes too much fiber or the wrong kind of supplement may interact with prescription medications.

So eat your daily “roughage” and make your mothers proud.

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