For a long time people didn't enjoy the benefits of fiber (or 'fibre' as
it's spelled in the UK) because they didn't think that fiber
mattered: It contains no nutrients, it isn't absorbed by the body
and it passes out of the digestive tract very quickly, so what's the
point in eating it?
Unfortunately, we've had to find out the hard way that fiber does indeed matter!
After years of eating refined and processed foods, we started to see serious conditions increasing exponentially. Conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions.
But in other parts of the world, where people still get a lot of fiber rich foods in their diets, these diseases are much less prevalent. And researchers have put this down to fiber!
Today the average person's consumption of fiber is about 10 to 15 grams, but we need 20 to 35 grams for optimal health, says Jana Klauer, MD., a New York City physician who specializes in the biology of fat reduction.
Dietary fiber is simply the tough, structural parts of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains, as well as the components of the plant wall, that doesn't get broken down and digested in the intestine.
So what makes it good for us? Where do the benefits of fiber come from?
Rather than being a disadvantage, the most benefits come from the fact that fiber doesn't get digested and absorbed like other components of food.
Rather, it gets swept along more or less intact from the stomach to the intestines and from the intestines into the stools. This is exactly why fiber is such a powerful healing food.
There's actually two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Most foods from plants contain both types, but they usually have more of one kind than the other. Apples, for example, contain mostly soluble fiber, while grains are higher in the insoluble kind.
Further Reading: Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
Humans lack the enzymes and digestive juices needed to break down fiber, so much of it passes through the body without adding energy or calories.
Some plant fibers, such as cellulose, however, are partially digested by beneficial microflora present in the colon, for which it's the primary food source.
The natural fermentation process, which occurs in the colon, results in the degradation of about 50% of the cellulose and is an important source of short-chain fatty acids that nourish our intestinal cells and have anticancer activity.
Fiber has three important jobs to do:
Without correct bowel movements, toxins can build up and be carried through the body, resulting in a variety of illnesses.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association compared the effects of soluble fiber in the form of barley and insoluble fiber in the form of whole wheat and brown rice on blood pressure levels in 25 participants.
After 5 weeks, blood pressure levels dropped in all participants, regardless of whether they were eating the soluble or insoluble fiber.
This suggests that increasing all types of whole-grain, or high fiber foods in your diet can reduce blood pressure.
Further Reading: Causes of High Blood Pressure
Research has shown that people that get the most soluble fiber in their diets are at the least risk for heart disease.
In one study, for example, researchers at Tulane University in New Orleans studied the relationship between total dietary fiber intake and soluble fiber intake on the risk of cardiovascular disease in 9,776 adults.
After 19 years, those who ate an average of 20.7 grams of fiber a day had significantly fewer cardiovascular disease events than the people who got an average of 5.9 grams a day.
The risk was even lower in men with the highest intake of soluble fiber, indicating that a higher intake of dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Further Reading: What Causes Heart Disease? Can Healing Foods Reverse It?
Research has shown a link between a low intake of fiber and an elevated risk of colon cancer.
In a major study conducted by the American Cancer Society, researchers examined the whole grain, fruit and vegetable intake of 62,609 men and 70,554 women and found that men with a high vegetable intake had a 30% lower risk of colon cancer and men with very low intake of vegetables and whole grains and women with a very low intake of fruits were more likely to have developed colon cancer 4 to 5 years later.
For a while it wasn't very clear why a low intake of fiber increases the risk for colon cancer, but a recent study done at the Department of Surgery of the University of Texas Medical Branch, shows that the reason may be at the molecular level.
The researchers showed that a substance created by the fermentation of dietary fiber in the intestines, called sodium butyrate, may act as a colon cancer tumour suppressor.
And the benefits of fiber don't only affect the colon. Some evidence suggests that it may help reduce the risk of breast cancer as well. Although some studies seem to be contradictory, there is evidence that dietary fiber may play a role in decreasing the circulating estrogens that can raise breast cancer.
One study presented at the American Association for Cancer Prevention Research looked at the blood hormones of 252 Latino women in relation to their intakes of fiber. The researchers found an inverse relationship between dietary fiber and the two female hormones estradiol and estrone. As the fiber intakes increased, the hormone levels sharply decreased.
Flaxseed is a wonderful source of soluble fiber and is one of nature's richest sources of Omega 3 (ALA), which is an essential fatty acid required in our body.
Lizi's Organic Granola is very rich in fiber, has a low GL, which means that it doesn't raise blood sugar as other cereals do, and tastes delicious.