Thursday, October 25, 2007

Focusing on Fiber

With all the cockamamie diets and chemically processed food products available today, it’s no wonder that Americans are continuing down the path to poor health. With obesity (adult and child) and type II diabetes on the rise, manufacturers are zeroing in on how to alter their products to corner the market to keep up with the next trend in dieting. Unfortunately, this feeble attempt to encourage weight loss only furthers the decline of healthy living by encouraging “quick fixes” instead of focusing on eating well balanced, nutritious foods.

With people on the go and express meals at the ready, a lot of people are missing out on several important nutrients that supply the body the right type of fuel to build a strong immune system, fight disease and supply energy. Because many of these ready made meals and packaged foods are so highly processed they tend to lack the vital nutrients our bodies need. Unfortunately the consumption of these foods is merely offering a feeling of satiety and provides nothing more than what is known as “empty calories”. Empty calories are calories consumed from poor food sources that lack any kind of nourishment for the body. Items such as soda, chips, candy and the like offer no vitamins or minerals that can benefit ones health (and in some cases can even rob you of the vitamins your body needs) while still adding to your total caloric intake.

Due to the magnitude of this topic and the length at which it would take to discuss, I’d like to focus on one nutrient that seems to have lost focus over the years - fiber. With coronary heart disease being the number one killer for both men and women in America, fiber can play a critical role in helping reduce the risks. In fact, a Harvard study of over 40,000 male health professionals, researchers found that a high total dietary fiber intake was linked to a 40 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to a low fiber intake. Fiber intake has also been linked with the metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high insulin levels, excess weight (especially around the abdomen), high levels of triglycerides, the body's main fat-carrying particle, and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol). Several studies suggest that higher intake of fiber may somehow ward off this increasingly common syndrome. Along with helping to reduce the risks of the above mentioned diseases, fiber has been found to be effective in helping to reduce adult onset diabetes – better known as Type II diabetes. With a well-rounded exercise program, fiber can be effective in reducing the risk of type II diabetes and possibly help reduce the need for insulin for those with diabetes. Other unhealthy related conditions fiber has been effective in helping are diverticulitis and constipation.

There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are undigested, therefore they are not absorbed into the bloodstream. Instead of being used for energy, fiber is excreted from our bodies. Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid, while insoluble fiber does not. Insoluble fiber passes through our intestines largely intact. The function of insoluble fiber is to move bulk through the intestines and control and balance the pH in the intestines whole soluble fiber binds with fatty acids and prolongs stomach emptying time so that sugar is released and absorbed more slowly. Sources of soluble fiber are: oatmeal, oat bran, nuts and seeds, legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils), apples, pears, strawberries and blueberries. Insoluble fiber sources are whole wheat breads, barley, brown rice, bulgur, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, celery and tomatoes.

Current recommendations suggest that adults consume 20-35 grams of dietary fiber per day. Children over age 2 should consume an amount equal to or greater than their age plus 5 grams per day and yet the average American only eats approximately 15 grams of dietary fiber a day. So folks, it’s pretty simple, focus on at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables as well as at least 5-8 servings of whole grain products per day and you are very well likely meeting your fiber requirements and improving your overall health. - Fred Fornicola