However, Americans are woefully deficient in fiber, getting between eight and 15 grams per day, when they should be ingesting more than 40 grams daily.
To increase our daily intake, several myths need to be dispelled. First, fiber does more than improve bowel movements. Also, fiber doesn’t have to be unpleasant.
Though fiber comes in supplement form, most of your daily intake should be from diet. It is relatively painless to get enough fiber; you just have to learn which foods are fiber-rich.
Fiber has powerful effects on our overall health. A very large prospective cohort study showed that fiber may increase longevity by decreasing mortality from cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases and other infectious diseases.
Over a nine-year period, those who ate the most fiber, in the highest quintile group, were 22 percent less likely to die than those in lowest group. Patients who consumed the most fiber also saw a significant decrease in mortality from cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases and infectious diseases.
The authors of the study believe that it may be whole grains’ anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects that are responsible for the positive results.
Along the same lines, we see benefit with prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with fiber in a relatively large epidemiologic analysis of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study.
Here, the specific source of fiber was important. Fruit had the most significant effect on preventing COPD, with a 28 percent reduction in risk. Cereal fiber also had a substantial effect, but not as great.
Does the type of fiber make a difference? One of the complexities is that there are many different classifications of fiber, from soluble to viscous to fermentable.
Within each of the types, there are subtypes. Not all fiber sources are equal. Some are more effective in preventing or treating certain diseases. Take, for instance, a February 2004 irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) study.
This was a meta-analysis (a review of multiple studies) using 17 randomized controlled trials with results showing that soluble psyllium improved symptoms in patients significantly more than insoluble bran.
Fiber also has powerful effects on breast cancer treatment. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, soluble fiber had a significant impact on breast cancer risk reduction in estrogen receptor negative women.
This is one of the few studies that has illustrated significant results in estrogen receptor negative women. Most beneficial studies for breast cancer have shown results in estrogen receptor positive women.
The list of chronic diseases and disorders that fiber prevents and treats also includes cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, diverticulosis and weight gain. This is hardly an exhaustive list.
Foods that are high in fiber are part of a plant-rich diet. They are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Animal products don’t have fiber. Bonus: fiber, itself, has no calories, yet helps you feel full.
Overall, beans, as a group, have the highest amount of fiber. These days, it’s easy to increase your fiber intake by choosing bean-based pastas. Personally, I prefer those based on lentils. Read the labels, though; you want those that are solely made from lentils without rice added.
If you have a chronic disease, the best fiber sources are most likely disease-dependent. However, if you are trying to prevent chronic diseases in general, I recommend getting fiber from a wide array of sources.
Make sure to eat meals that contain substantial amounts of fiber, which has several advantages: reducing the risk of chronic disease, increased satiety and increased energy levels.
Certainly, while protein is important, each time you sit down at a meal, rather than asking how much protein is in it, you now know to ask how much fiber is in it.