High Fiber Diet
What is fiber?
Fiber, also called roughage or bulk, is the part of the plant that cannot be digested by the body. It is necessary to promote the wavelike contractions that move food through the digestive tract. Fiber speeds up the time required to digest food and expel waste. As fiber passes through the intestine it absorbs large amounts of water, resulting in larger, bulkier stools.
There are many different kinds of fiber. Some fiber is soluble in water and forms a gelatinous bulk, this type of fiber is known to lower cholesterol. Some fiber is insoluble and adds bulk to the stool; this is beneficial for constipation and other conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.
Why is fiber important?
Getting enough fiber is important in treating several health conditions. Eating adequate amounts of fiber is beneficial in treating both constipation and diarrhea. Fiber can prevent or reduce the formation of diverticulae in the colon by preventing straining with bowel movements and decreases the pressure in the colon. Increased consumption of fiber has been shown to help with the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome by normalizing stool passage in the colon, resulting in less discomfort. Soluble fiber (found in oatmeal, oatbran, and psyllium) can act to lower cholesterol by binding with it in the digestive tract.
There is recent evidence to suggest that fiber does not directly reduce the risk of cancer. However, many high fiber foods are also high in antioxidants and other healthy substances that may indeed reduce the risk of cancer. It is important to eat at least five servings of fruits and/or vegetables everyday. You will get the most benefit if you include choices that are rich in color such as dark leafy greens, bright yellows and oranges, and deep purples and reds.
In cultures that eat diets rich in fiber (Rural Africa) it has been shown that colon transit time is one-third that of Western cultures. It is believed that this helps rid the body of harmful substances before they can cause problems for the body. People in these cultures have been shown to have far fewer digestive diseases that affect us in the Western world.
High Fiber foods
The recommended intake of fiber is 20-35 grams per day. Most Americans consume only 10-15 grams per day. High-fiber foods can be found in most food groups. Some of the best sources are: legumes (soluble fiber), whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dried fruits. Since fiber can cause intestinal gas, it is best to introduce it in small amounts and increase as tolerated. It is very important to drink plenty of water and other liquids if you are eating a lot of fiber, otherwise you may become constipated. Read package labels to find the fiber content of the foods you eat.
If you find it too difficult to get enough fiber in your diet you may want to try a fiber supplement, such as Metamucil or Citrucel.