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Dr. Robert D. Fusco, Medical Director    
High Fiber Diet

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There is no getting around it - fiber is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Study after study has shown the nutritional benefits of a high-fiber diet, while diets low in fiber have been implicated in everything from heart disease to diabetes. Fiber is necessary for effective digestion and for elimination of waste products. Fiber has been shown to have a gentle brooming effect on the inner walls of your intestines, performing what might be called "daily house cleaning." It's a rapid transit system keeping your body tuned up and free of toxins. Unfortunately, chances are you are not getting enough fiber in your diet. In fact, most people in the United States average only 10-15 grams of dietary fiber a day while it is recommended that we should be eating at least 30 grams daily. Below are some suggestions that may help your improve your diet.

What Is Dietary Fiber?

Simply, dietary fiber - also called roughage or bulk - is the part of plant that cannot be digested by the body. Dietary fiber is found in grains, fruits, and vegetables. There is no fiber in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products. Just as there are many types of plants, there are also many types of dietary fiber. Some fibers can be dissolved in water (soluble fiber) and inside the small intestine form a jelly-like bulk that can lower cholesterol and reduce blood sugar. A diet high in soluble fiber can reduce total serum cholesterol and LDL ("bad cholesterol") by as much as 15%. Soluble fiber can be found in foods such as oat bran, apples, citrus, pears, peas, beans and psyllium. Soluble fibers act mostly in the small intestine, since they are destroyed in the large intestine through bacterial action.

Insoluble fibers cannot be dissolved in water and are not destroyed by bacteria in the colon. They are found in wheat bran, cabbage, and root vegetables. Insoluble fibers work mainly in the colon where they add bulk and help retain water, resulting in a softer and larger stool. So, a diet high in insoluble fiber is most often used in treatment of constipation resulting from poor dietary habits.

The Benefits of Dietary Fiber
The present emphasis on fiber and its role in various diseases dates back to the 1970's and the observations of Dennis Burkitt. He noted in cultures with diets rich in fiber there was a relative rarity of diverticulosis, gallbladder disease, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, constipation, and colon polyps - illnesses which are quite common in our society. Burkitt also noted the emergence of these diseases in the United States and England after 1890. This seemed to correlate with a new milling technique that yielded a refined white flour - one that is low in fiber. Over the past several decades, much research has been done to confirm Burkitt's theory.

High Fiber Foods

Foods that rate high in fiber can also be delicious. It's just a matter of making the right choices. Here are six basic types of food that contain high amounts of dietary fiber:

    1. Beans - including pinto, navy, lima, kidney, and baked beans. Beans are especially high in soluble fiber, the cholesterol-lowering type.

    2. Whole Grains - Wheat bran and Oat bran can be found in a variety of cereals and breads. Check the label. It must say whole wheat or whole grain. Plain wheat bread has little fiber. Also be aware that brown bread is not always high in fiber. Sometimes bread is artificially colored to make it look more wholesome.

    3. Whole Fresh Fruits - these contain pectin which is another soluble fiber. Figs, prunes, and raspberries have the highest fiber content.

    4. Cooked Fruits - cooking does not destroy the fiber. Prunes and applesauce are good choices.

    5. Green Leafy Vegetables - be aware that most leafy vegetables like lettuce are mostly water and contain little fiber per serving. A typical lettuce salad is a poor choice. Spinach, kale, and broccoli are suggested.

    6. Root Vegetables - potatoes, turnips, and carrots are best.
Don't Be Too Enthusiastic

If you are not used to much fiber in your diet, don't run out to the supermarket and load up on high fiber foods. Most people do not tolerate a sudden increase in fiber very well as your body takes time to adjust. Too much fiber too soon can cause a bloated feeling and increased gas. The golden rule regarding fiber is to take fiber in gradually increasing amounts and not attempt to be too enthusiastic in the beginning. That is, not to take too much fiber too soon. Otherwise unpleasant side effects will occur and you will give up before giving your body a chance to adapt to your new diet.

Making the Change

It's easy to increase the fiber in your diet. Just begin shifting toward whole foods and plant products while shifting away from the highly processed foods and animal products and you'll be well on your way. You probably know that new government regulations now require most processed foods to be labeled with their nutritional content, such as calories and fat content per serving. Did you know that label also includes a measure of the dietary fiber per serving? This makes it a simple matter to add up the total fiber you consume each day. Try it for a week and you probably will be surprised at the lack of fiber in your diet.

Fiber Supplements May Be Helpful

If you find it difficult to get enough fiber through your diet, you may wish to consider adding a daily fiber supplement. These products contain plant fiber that absorbs water and adds bulk to the stools. For example, Metamucil (psyllium hydrophilic mucilloid) is one such product that is often recommended. Metamucil is made from grain (the husk of the psyllium seed) and works in much the same way as foods that are high in fiber. These supplements can be mixed with water or various juices and then taken at mealtime or any other convenient time. Many people simply add these to their morning orange juice as a daily routine. Most of these products are available in instant mix packets, so that they can be used when traveling. The dietary fiber in this product helps normalize bowel function by providing the bulk necessary to regulate both constipation and diarrhea. It works gently to form a soft smooth easy to eliminate stool. Other brand name products which contain different forms of fiber but which work in a similar fashion are Hydrocil, FiberCon, and Citrucel.

The most important thing is to use these products regularly. All of these products are safe and contain no harsh chemical laxatives. Since they are not habit forming, they can be used on a long-term basis. These supplements usually allow the bowel to return to its normal routine without causing any embarrassing urgency. Weight watchers and patients with diabetes will be glad to know that most of these products are available in a sugar-free form. If cost is a consideration, you should know that generic products are not really much different than the more expensive brand names. For example, generic brand psyllium is often half the cost of the brand name Metamucil.

Fiber and Colon Cancer

One area of prevention that was recently disputed is the benefit of a high fiber diet and the prevention of colon cancer. Many prior studies have demonstrated the protective effect of a high fiber diet in prevention of colon cancer. However, a large 16 year national study of 88,757 women found that a high fiber diet was not protective against colon cancer. This does not mean that a high fiber diet is not beneficial in many other ways. But, it appears that the best way to help avoid colon cancer is periodic screening exams of the colon.

Summary

Evidence is clear that the healthiest diets are loaded with plant foods (vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains) and short on animal foods (meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products). The importance of a high-fiber diet can't be overstated. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables plays a major role in reducing the risk of all the major causes of illness and death. Adopting a high fiber diet is one of the simplest things you can do to improve your overall health. Don't procrastinate. Begin today....

 
High Fiber Tips
 
 
Breakfast
    Start each day with a high fiber breakfast. Choose a high fiber cereal such as wheat bran cereal and fresh fruit like bananas or berries. Have peanut butter on whole wheat bread, instead of bacon and eggs.
Snack
    Pack a high fiber snack for your lunch box. Try carrot sticks instead of potatoes chips in your lunchbox. You'll get the same crunch, with much less fat.
Lunch
    For an afternoon treat, try an apple or pear and some raisins instead of candy or chips. Fruits are packed with fiber and much lower in calories.
Supper
    At supper, spice up that boring lettuce and tomato salad with a multicolored one that contains fresh red, green, and yellow peppers, green peas, sugar snap peas, and raw broccoli. Add some kidney beans or nuts.
 


Fiber Content of Some Common Foods

Your goal should be to double your daily fiber intake to about 30 grams daily. Be adventurous, but don't shock your system. Increase the fiber in your diet gradually by selecting from the high fiber foods below. The National Academy of Sciences advises a daily intake of five or more servings of fruits and vegetables, and six or more servings of whole grain breads, cereals, and beans. Eat at regular intervals and don't skip meals. Always remember to drink plenty of fluids when you increase fiber in your diet. (Alcohol and caffeine-containing drinks don't count.)

Breads

 
8 square

1 medium

1 slice

1 slice

1 slice

4 square
   
Lowfat Triscuits

bran muffin

whole wheat bread

white bread

rye bread

saltines
   
4 gm fiber

3

2

1

1

0
 


Cereals and Pastas

 
1 oz

1 oz

1/3 cup

1 oz

1 cup

1 oz

1 oz

1 oz

1 oz

1 oz

1 oz

1 cup

1 oz

1 oz

1 oz

1 oz

1/1 cup
   
Kelloggs All-Bran Extra

Fiber One

Bran Buds

Kelloggs All-Bran

whole wheat pasta

Kelloggs Bran Flakes

oatbran

Raisin Nut Bran

Cheerios

Grape-Nuts

oatmeal

popcorn

Total

Wheaties

Rice Krispies

corn flakes

white rice
   
14 gm fiber

13

10

9

5

4

4

3

2

2

2

2

2

2

1

less than 1

less than 1
 


Beans

 
1/2 cup

1/2 cup

1/2 cup

1/2 cup

    kidney beans

black beans

baked beans

navy beans
    9 gm fiber

9

7

5
 


Vegetables

 
1/2 cup

1 medium

1/2 cup

1/2 cup

1/2 cup

1/2 cup

1/2 cup

1/2 cup

   
peas

baked potato & skin

kale

broccoli

carrots

corn

green beans

Brussels sprouts

    4 gm fiber

4

4

3

3

3

2

2
 


Fruits

 
3.5 oz

3.5 oz

3.5 oz

2

1/4 cup

1 medium

1 medium

1/2 cup

5

1 medium

1/4 cup

1 cup

1 medium

1/4 cup

10 medium

1 medium

1 tbsp

1 medium

half

1 tbsp
   
dried figs

prunes

raspberries

figs

almonds

apple

banana

blackberries

dried dates

peach

peanuts

strawberries

pear

cantaloupe

grapes

orange

peanut butter

apricot

grapefruit

raisins
   
18 gm fiber

8

7

7

5

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

2

2

2

2

2

1

1

1
 
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