High Fiber Diet
Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine
by Mai Tran
Fiber is the material that gives plants texture and support. Dietary fiber is found in many plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Although it is primarily made up of carbohydrates, it does not have a lot of calories and usually is not broken down by the body for energy. Fiber is sometimes called roughage.
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There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber, as the name implies, does not dissolve in water because it contains high amounts of cellulose. Insoluble fiber is found in grain brans, fruit pulp, and vegetable peels or skins. Soluble fiber is the type of fiber that dissolves in water. It can be found in a variety of such fruits, grains, and vegetables as apples, oatmeal and oat bran, rye flour and dried beans.
Although the two types of fiber share some common characteristics such as being partially digested in the stomach and intestines and being low in calories, each type has its own specific health benefits. Insoluble fiber speeds up the movement of foods through the digestive system and adds bulk to the stools; it helps to treat constipation or diarrhea and prevents colon cancer. On the other hand, only soluble fiber can lower blood cholesterol levels. This type of fiber works by attaching itself to the cholesterol so that it can be eliminated from the body. This process prevents cholesterol from recirculating and being reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
High-fiber diet therapy is actually a return to nature and the plant-based diets used by our ancestors since the beginning of time. In fact, our ancestors consumed large quantities of fiber-containing foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grain products every day. As technology advanced, however, people began to turn away from these unprocessed healthful foods and began eating more highly processed and fat-laden foods. As a result, the incidence of coronary heart disease , diabetes and cancers has steadily risen. Naturopathic physicians, who practice natural healing methods, have long advocated high-fiber diets as a major preventive and therapeutic treatment for these and other diseases. Extensive medical research has now confirmed that a high-fiber diet prevents or treats a wide variety of diseases ranging from constipation to heart disease and cancer.
A high-fiber diet helps prevent or treat the following health conditions:
* High blood cholesterol levels. Fiber effectively lowers blood cholesterol levels. It appears that soluble fiber binds to the cholesterol molecule and moves it through the digestive tract so that it can be excreted from the body. This mechanism prevents cholesterol from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
* Constipation. A high-fiber diet is a useful non-drug treatment for constipation. Fiber in the diet adds more bulk to the stools, making them softer. Fiber also shortens the length of time that foods remain in the digestive tract. It is important, however, for people increasing their fiber intake to drink more water as well, in order to get the benefit of using dietary fiber to relieve constipation.
* Hemorrhoids. Fiber in the diet adds more bulk and softens the stool, thus reducing the pain and bleeding associated with hemorrhoids.
* Diabetes. A common problem for diabetics is the rapid rise of insulin levels following meals. Soluble fiber in the diet delays the emptying of the stomach contents into the intestines. This delay helps to slow the rise of blood sugar levels following a meal and thus gives diabetics greater control over their condition.
* Obesity. Dietary fiber makes a person feel full more rapidly. It can thus help a person lose weight by making the appetite easier to control.
* Colon and colorectal cancer . Insoluble fiber in the diet speeds up the movement of the stools through the gastrointestinal tract. The faster that food and its by-products travel through the digestive tract, the less time there is for potential cancer-causing substances to work on the food. Diets that are high in insoluble fiber help to prevent the accumulation of toxic substances that cause cancer of the colon.
* Breast cancer . A high dietary consumption of fats is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Because fiber reduces fat absorption in the digestive tract, it may prevent breast cancer.
The American Dietetic Association recommends eating 25-35 g of fiber daily. A person can meet this fiber requirement by consuming two to three servings of fruits and three to five servings of vegetables every day. To increase fiber intake, a person should eat more of the following high-fiber foods: whole grains, beans, fruits (preferably with skins on), roots and leafy vegetables, broccoli or carrots. As an added bonus, he or she will also receive other health benefits provided by the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and cancer-fighting phytochemicals in these foods.
For the greatest benefit to health, people should have both soluble and insoluble fiber in their diet, preferably in a 50:50 ratio. The following foods are good sources of insoluble fiber:
* wheat bran
* whole wheat products
* cereals made from bran or shredded wheat
* crunchy vegetables
* whole wheat pasta
* rye flour
Good sources of soluble fiber include:
* oat bran
* citrus fruits
* dried beans
* rye flour
* raw cabbage
High-fiber therapy must be part of a balanced diet that includes adequate water intake and also provides the proper amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron and zinc.
The following minor discomforts may occur on a high-fiber diet, especially if there has been a sudden increase of fiber content in the diet:
* loose bowel movements
* excessive gas
* occasional stomach pain
Research & general acceptance
As a result of the large volume of scientific evidence supporting the use of fiber in disease prevention and treatment, high-fiber diet treatments have been accepted and advocated by practitioners of alternative and conventional medicine alike. High-fiber diets have been endorsed by the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, the National Cancer Institute, the National Research Council, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Cellulose – the primary substance composing the cell walls or fibers of all plant tissues.
Hemorrhoid – varicose vein in the area around the anus. Hemorrhoids sometimes cause pain and bleeding.
Naturopathy – A school of alternative medicine that focuses on natural healing. Therapies provided by practitioners of naturopathy often include diet, exercise, supplement and hydrotherapy and may also include osteopathic and chiropractice treatments.
Roughage – Another name for dietary fiber.
Further Reading For Your Information:
* Murray, Michael, and Joseph Pizzorno. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, revised 2nd edition. Rocklin, CA: Prima Health, 1998.
* Winick, Myron. The Fiber Prescription. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1992.
* American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. P.O. Box 20386. Seattle, WA 98102. (206) 323-7610.
Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine . Gale Group, 2001.
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