Digestive diseases affect 60 to 70 million people around the world. These include such varied illnesses as hepatitis, cirrhosis, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and colon and bladder cancers. The number one step you can take to prevent digestive disease is to make sure you get enough fiber in your diet.
Fiber comes from plants. Since your body can’t really digest fiber or absorb it into your bloodstream, it’s not nourished by it. That means, technically speaking, fiber isn’t a “nutrient.” But it’s vital for good health. Fiber is under appreciated many times. It can help reduce constipation, control diarrhea, manage diabetes, lower blood cholesterol, and decrease the incidence of cancer. The two forms of fiber each play a distinct role in digestive health.
Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with water, which slows the movement of food through the digestive tract. This gives your body proper time to absorb the nutrients in your food and prevents a rapid increase in blood sugar. Insoluble fiber is the bulk that helps keep food moving through your digestive tract to promote regularity and maintain muscle tone.
Increase your fiber intake to 25-30 grams per day. The easiest way to do this is by supplementing your diet with a spoonful of Metamucil® or Benefiber® before every meal. Good natural sources of fiber include vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruit with the skin on, and nuts. If you increase your daily fiber intake, make sure you also drink plenty of fluids.
Fiber, a Mystery?
Fiber can be confusing. Because the fiber-rich foods in our diet tend to be high in carbohydrates, many carb-adverse people simply don’t get enough of this heart-healthy substance. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the average American consumes between 5 to 13 grams of fiber per day—while women should strive for 25 grams, and men should consume 38. That should include between 5 and 10 grams daily of soluble fiber.
There are two main types of fiber — soluble (also called “viscous”) and insoluble. While both have health benefits, only soluble fiber reduces the risk of heart disease. The difference between the types is how they go through the digestive track. Soluble fiber mixes with liquid and binds to fatty substances to help remove them from the body. Soluble fiber thus helps to lower cholesterol levels — thereby reducing the risk of heart disease. Good sources of soluble fiber are whole oats, barley, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (which include beans, peas, and lentils).
Insoluble fiber goes through the digestive tract largely undissolved. Also called “roughage,” insoluble fiber helps the colon function properly. Good sources of insoluble fiber are whole-grain foods (such as wheat and corn bran), fruits (such as apples and pears with the skins), vegetables (such as green beans, cauliflower, and potatoes with the skins), and legumes. As you can see, many foods have both soluble and insoluble fiber. As a rule, fruits have more soluble fiber and vegetables more insoluble fiber.
For example: The insoluble fiber in “healthy” breakfast cereals is easily broken down into pure glucose, which enters your bloodstream like a spoonful of sugar, whereas the soluble fiber in apples, for instance, acts as a “control rod” for glucose entering the blood. Here are some foods that provide fiber and all its benefits, but without hiking insulin levels: oatmeal, broccoli, apples, red peppers, strawberries, whole citrus fruits.
Fiber can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Second, it’s also good for the digestive tract and overall health. And, as a bonus, eating lots of fiber helps you feel full on fewer calories, which makes it ideal if you’re trying to lose weight.
Let Soluble Fiber Help Your Heart
Soluble fiber mixes with liquid and binds to fatty substances to help remove them from the body. This is how soluble fiber helps to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Good sources of soluble fiber are whole oats, barley, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (which include beans, peas, and lentils).
Here’s a more complete list of good sources of soluble fiber:
Whole-grain cereals and seeds: barley, oatmeal, oat bran, and psyllium seeds (ground)
Fruits: apples (with the skin), bananas, blackberries, citrus (such as oranges and grapefruits), nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and prunes
Legumes: black, kidney, lima, navy, northern, and pinto beans; yellow, green, and orange lentils; and chickpeas and black-eyed peas
Vegetables: broccoli, brussel sprouts, and carrots