Dietary Fiber is the part of the plant that cannot be digested by the body. Just as there are many types of plants, there are also many types of fiber. Some fibers, such as oat bran, are soluble in water and form a gelatinous bulk that can lower cholesterol. Other fibers, such as wheat bran, are insoluble and add bulk to the stool. Both are important and provide benefits.
THE FUNCTION OF THE LARGE INTESTINE
The principle function of the large intestine (colon) is to remove excess water from food wastes passing into it from the small intestine. When food passes trough the large intestine too quickly, not enough water is absorbed by the intestine, and diarrhea results. In contrast, if waste material is passed too slowly, too much water is absorbed. This results in hard stools and constipation, often leading to straining.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DIETARY FIBER
Fiber, also called roughage or bulk, is necessary to promote the wavelike contractions that move food through the intestine. High fib er foods expand the inside walls of the colon, easing the passage of waste. As fiber passes through the intestine undigested, it absorbs large amounts of water, resulting in softer and bulkier stools.
Rural Africans digest and eliminate foods they eat in one-third the time it takes people who live in Western cultures. The rural African diet is rich in fiber. This speeds up the time required to digest food and expel wastes. It is believed that this helps sweep out harmful substances before they can cause problems in the body. In fact, these rural people suffer less from many of the digestive tract diseases that plaque Western man, and it is thought that this may be related to the nature of the diet.
A high-fiber diet causes a large, soft, bulky stool that passes through the bowel more easily and quickly. This helps t prevent, stop, or even reverse some digestive tract disorders. A softer, larger stool helps prevent constipation and straining, which can help avoid or relieve hemorrhoids. More bulk means less pressure in the colon, and this is important in treating irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.
Most Americans eat only 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day. The recommended intake is 20 to 35 grams a day. High fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, also tend to be low in calories, so they should not cause weight gain. Fiber pills generally should be avoided. They contain relatively little fiber and are expensive. Fiber-containing foods and powdered fiber supplements are better sources.
HIGH FIBER FOODS
1. Legumes - including kidney, pinto, navy, lime and baked beans. The bean family excels in fiber, especially the soluble, cholesterol-lowering
2. Whole Grains - What bran and oat bran are present in a variety of cereals and breads. The label should say that the bread contains whole wheat
or whole grain. Plain wheat bread may lack fiber. One cannot always tell by the color. Some manufacturers artificially color bread brown to
make it look more wholesome.
3. Whole Fresh Fruits - The valuable pectin fiber is found in the skin and the pulp. Figs,, prunes and raspberries have the highest fiber content.
4. Cooked or Stewed Fruits - prunes and applesauce are good choices.
5. Green Leafy Vegetables - Lettuce, spinach, celery, and broccoli are good examples.
6. Root Vegetables - potatoes, turnips and carrots are all excellent sources.
Since bran can cause rumbling intestinal gas and even some mild cramping, it should be started in small amounts initially. The amount can be increased as tolerance is acquired. The goal should be 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day, which will usually produce 1 to 2 soft, formed stools a day. The following are good general rules:
1. Drink plenty of liquids, including fruit or vegetable juices and water.
2. Eat slowly and chew food thoroughly to allow the upper digestive tract (esophagus, stomach and small intestine) to work well. This may help
prevent problems from developing in the lower digestive tract.
3. Eat meals at regular intervals.