Monday, May 31, 2004

Enjoy the benefits of fiber


It's not absorbed into the body, yet it could be the link to a healthful diet ...

By Marsha Hilgeford / The Courier-Journal

If only the current low-carbohydrate craze would give way to a fiber fixation, nutrition experts would be happier.

And Americans would be healthier, they say.

But bulking up fiber's reputation is about as difficult as selling the public on eating more barley - a half cup cooked has 6.8 grams of fiber, by the way.

While eating more fiber may be great advice, most people find it difficult to follow.

Foods high in fiber are harder to eat than those with lesser amounts. A burger can be eaten with one hand as we work or drive. Spinach salad, on the other hand, while a great source of fiber, takes some time and attention.

But diets high in fiber have stood the test of time and continue to be recommended by most health experts. Research suggests that fiber may prevent heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer and obesity.

Fiber is found only in plant foods. It is a type of carbohydrate that gives plants their structure. It is not digested or absorbed into the body when eaten. It carries no calories and is not considered to be a nutrient.

Fiber is not found in any animal-based product, such as dairy or meat. Only traces of fiber are found in heavily processed foods such as white rice, white bread, refined breakfast cereals, most cookies, crackers and regular pasta.

There are two types of fiber, both beneficial in different ways. Soluble fiber, such as pectin found in fruit, dissolves in water. This type of fiber helps treat heart disease and diabetes. Insoluble fiber includes wheat and the cellulose fibers added to high-fiber bread. This type of fiber helps make us feel full and aids in the digestion of other foods.

With every step our foods go through in processing, fiber content is diminished.

Orange juice, for example, has less than 1 gram of fiber per serving, while a fresh orange has 3 grams of fiber. Those fluffy, luscious mashed potatoes or delicious french fries also score a zero on the fiber scale, while a baked potato with skin brings with it 3 grams of fiber.

The average American diet includes about 11 grams of fiber daily. This is less than half the recommended amount suggested by health experts, including the surgeon general and the American Heart Association. Recent recommendations for fiber are for 25 to 38 grams daily. With such a positive connection to good health, a diet high in fiber may be a missing link for many of us.



Ways to add fiber to your diet:

•Try a high-fiber grain instead of rice. Bulgur, barley and brown rice are great high-fiber substitutes.

•Add dry beans to stir-fry, dips or quesadillas.

•Eat some type of fresh or dried fruit with every meal.

•Eat the skin and membranes of fruits.

•Start dinners with a large spinach salad, sprinkled with nuts, seeds or dried fruit.

•Choose fruit instead of juice.

•Make a pot of vegetable soup to freeze for lunches.

•Try Middle Eastern cuisine, such as tabbouleh or falafel.

•Keep nuts or cereal mixes available for snacks.

•Buy whole-wheat pasta, breads and cereals.

Caution: Too much fiber too quickly may cause stomach discomfort. Add foods gradually and boost liquid intake to aid digestion.



What can it do for you?

Here are ways a diet high in fiber can improve health and help prevent diseases.

Weight loss: Fiber helps you feel full and slows the emptying of your stomach. Eating a meal high in fiber may help you fill up before you overeat. Fiber may also help cut calories by blocking the digestion of the fat and protein from other foods eaten at the same time.

Heart disease and diabetes: In a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 10,000 people who consumed 21 grams of fiber a day were 12 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who consumed 6 grams.

Hypertension: Fiber-rich foods also provide potassium and magnesium, two minerals needed to help regulate blood pressure. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute showed the importance of whole grains, vegetables and fruits in controlling blood pressure.

Diabetes and blood sugar regulation: Water-soluble fibers also help regulate blood sugar by delaying stomach emptying. They slow sugar absorption after a meal and reduce the amount of insulin needed.

Diverticular disease: Fiber has remained standard therapy for the treatment of diverticular disease, an inflammation of the intestine. In Western societies, this is one of the most common disorders of the colon, affecting one-third of people over age 45.



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TEMPO STORIES
Why we remember
Cicadas' song could be why you think you want more to eat

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Harry might not make it, Radcliffe says
Streisand's legal bill gets higher
Mortensen won't attend Denmark's Fourth of July
Miramax honchos will release '9/11'

MAY FESTIVAL
May Festival concludes with magnificent Mahler

HEALTH AND FITNESS
Calendar
Be your own kitchen inspector
Enjoy the benefits of fiber
Begin and continue to build strength through push-ups

PEOPLE
BookExpo looking forward to Clinton
Birthdays

PLANNING AHEAD
Get to it: A guide to help make your day