Bay Area Medical Information (BAMI.us)
Fiber Facts
Fiber Foods
Six Important Facts about Fiber
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  1. Americans should eat 20-35 grams of fiber each day, with 5-10 grams per day from soluble fiber. The average American eats about half that amount (1).
  2. A food that contains more than 5 grams of fiber per serving is considered to be a high source of fiber.
  3. Soluble fiber lowers blood cholesterol levels: Recent studies have found that eating 3 grams a day of soluble fiber from oats or 7 grams a day of soluble fiber from psyllium was associated with lower blood cholesterol levels.(1)
  4. A diet high in fiber, particularly soluble fiber, improves blood glucose control and lowers the risk of diabetes. Both types of fiber also add bulk which assists with satiety, another benefit for those trying to lose weight or control blood sugars.
  5. Both types of fiber help relieve and prevent constipation.(2)
  6. Counting carbs for weight loss or diabetes? Don't forget to subtract the total grams of fiber from the total grams of carbohydrate on the food label. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate (just like sugars and starches) but since it is not broken down by the human body, it does not contribute any calories and does not raise blood glucose levels. In other words, the fiber in an apple or a slice of whole grain bread has no effect on blood glucose levels because it isn't digested. Yet, on a food label, fiber is included in the calculation of total carbohydrates, which creates confusion. For those who wisely use food labels to count carbs for meal planning, the total grams of fiber should be subtracted from the total grams of carbohydrate to determine the actual amount of carbohydrate in that product that will contribute to calories and raise blood glucose levels.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is a substance found only in plants, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains and is made up of two main types--insoluble and soluble. A gel is formed when soluble fiber is mixed with liquid, while insoluble fiber passes through your digestive tract largely intact. Both types of fiber are an an important part of a healthy diet. (1)


Good sources of soluble fiber

Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, certain fruits, and psyllium (pronounced sil'e-um). Psyllium is a grain that contains a high level of soluble dietary fiber, and is the chief ingredient in many commonly used bulk laxatives, such as Citrucel®, Metamucil® and Serutan®. There is no evidence to suggest that long-term use of either of these products are harmful. Physicians frequently recommend that people with certain digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome or chronic constipation, take one of these products indefinitely.


High-Fiber Foods (2)
Fruit Vegetables Whole-Grain Breads, Cereals, and Beans
applesApples
Peaches
Raspberries
Tangerines
Oranges
Grapes
broccoliAcorn squash, raw
Broccoli, raw
Brussels sprouts, raw
Cabbage, raw
Carrots, raw
Cauliflower, raw
Spinach, cooked
Zucchini, raw
whole-grain breadKidney beans, cooked
Lima beans, cooked
Black-eyed peas, cooked

Whole-grain cereal, cold (All-Bran, Total, Bran Flakes)
Whole-grain cereal, hot (oatmeal, Wheatena)
Whole-wheat or 7-grain bread

What about the pesticides on fruits and vegetables?
(3)

Leaving the skin on fruits and vegetables greatly increases the fiber content but does also increase exposure to pesticides. At the very least, be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly with running water and use a small scrub brush on apples, potatoes, cucumbers or any produce in which you eat the outer skin. If pesticides are a specific concern for you, peel the fruits and vegetables and remove outer leaves of leafy vegetables in addition to washing them thoroughly.

Buying only organically grown produce and grains is an excellent method of avoiding pesticides. In 2002, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established an organic certification program that requires all foods labeled as organic to meet strict government standards. "After October 21, 2002, when you buy food labeled "organic," you can be sure that it was produced using the highest organic production and handling standards in the world." (USDA) These standards regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed. Any farmer or food manufacturer who labels and sells a product as organic must be USDA certified as adhering to these standards. Only producers who sell less than $5,000 a year in organic foods are exempt from this certification.

If a food bears a "USDA Organic" label, it means it's produced and processed according to the USDA standards and that at least 95 percent of the food's ingredients are organically produced. The seal is voluntary, but many organic producers use it. Foods labeled as "100 percent organic" are completely organic or made completely of organic ingredients. Some foods contain organically produced ingredients, but not at a high enough percentage to qualify for the "USDA Organic" seal. If a food contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, the words made with organic ingredients can appear on the label, along with a list of up to three organic ingredients. Foods containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients can't use the word organic on their product label or the "USDA Organic" seal. They can, however, include the organic items in their ingredient list.

Don't be fooled by the word "Natural"--natural doesn't equal organic. Only those foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled "organic."

An important point: Just because a product says it's organic or contains organic ingredients doesn't necessarily mean it's a healthier alternative. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories.


Potential side effects of fiber

A sudden increase in dietary fiber can result in abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. Gradual increases in daily intake of fiber, as well as drinking plenty of fluids will prevent potential constipation or gastric distress.


References

1) American Dietetic Association
2) National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, NIH
3) Consumer Information from the USDA National Organic Program

--Written by N Thompson, ARNP and Michael Thompson, MD, Last updated August 2010
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