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Fiber for All

by Rachel A. Rudel

Your life may not depend on fiber like the other nutrients, but it promotes health, helps reduce some chronic diseases such as colon cancer, helps lower blood sugar levels for diabetes sufferers, plus makes life a bit more comfortable.

On the average, adult North Americans eat approximately half the recommended 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. (The recommended fiber intake is lower for children to allow for adequate calories for growth. To figure out how many grams of fiber your child should eat each day, add five to the child's age in years).

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in the fruits, stalks and leaves of plants. Humans lack the digestive enzymes necessary to break down the fiber into useable material, so it passes through the body undigested, offering nothing by way of calories, vitamins and minerals. The health credit of fiber comes from its journey through the intestines.

The two kinds of fiber are insoluble and soluble fiber.

Insoluble fiber includes cellulose, hemmicellulose and lignin. It's found primarily in the cell wall of plants. Good sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, wheat bran, wheat germ and unpeeled fruits and vegetables.

Just think of them as a natural broom "sweeping" harmful substances quickly through the colon. Insoluble fiber absorbs water and helps increase both the bulk and softness of stools, allowing for an easier passage out of the body. Unique properties of insoluble fiber may play a role in the prevention of cancer, diverticulitis (an inflammation of small sacs in the colon) and hemorrhoids.

Soluble fibers are gums, mucilages and pectin, which are found in oats, oat bran, beans, fruits and vegetables plus psyllium, a grain product found in powdered laxatives such as Metamucil.

High-Fiber Snack
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 Tbsp. sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup crunchy bran cereal (like All Bran)
Combine all ingredients and keep in a plastic bag or sealed container. Makes 41/3 cup servings. Calories: 80. Fiber: 5.6 grams.

Each person's gastrointestinal tract responds to food in its own way and with its own rhythm. Often a person's own lifestyle may cause constipation. If a person receives the signal to defecate and ignores it, the signal may not return for several hours. Water continues to be withdrawn from the bowel area, thus when the person does defecate, the bowel movement is uncomfortable. Physical activity can help improve muscle tone of the outer body as well as of the digestive tract, and drinking eight glasses of water can relieve constipation.

Now that we know a little about fiber and how it works, here are some tips from the January UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, for finding whole grains without spending hours inspecting labels:

  • Oats are always whole, no matter how they're sliced (fine-cut, coarse-cut, instant or regular). Oatmeal bread is the big exception: the first ingredient in oatmeal breads is usually refined wheat flour, and there's not enough oats in a slice to make a big difference in your fiber intake.
  • Look for the word "whole" before wheat. It should be listed as the first ingredient.
  • Words like "enriched," "unbleached," "bromated," "stone ground," "granulated," "100% wheat," "rye," "pumpernickel," "multi-grain," "7-grain," "semolina," or "organic" have to be checked, as they may contain little or no whole grains.
  • Brown and wild rice are whole grains; white rice is refined.

There is no harm in eating some refined grains, but why not switch from that white bread you've eaten since grade school to whole wheat. The only sure-fire way to really know if the product you buy is whole-grain is to read the label. Remember, if the first ingredient is whole-grain flour, oats, brown rice or whole-rye flour, you're on the right track.

Rachel A. Rudel is a registered dietitian and a member of the American Dietetic Association. She is the author and publisher of two recipe books, 'Cooking Healthy & Fast' and 'Cooking Healthy, Fast & Superfast'. She is also a food editor for The Forum newspaper in Fargo, ND, and Detroit Lake, MN. She can be reached at P.O. Box 11336, Fargo, ND 58106-1336.

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