For good health, eat your fiber

May 25, 1999|By Lynn F. Little

Your grandmother was right when she encouraged you to eat your vegetables or cornbread and bean soup.

More and more people have been taking that advice and reaping the benefits from eating fruits and vegetables, dried beans and peas and the infinite variety of whole-grain breads and cereals available, all of which are good sources of fiber.

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Dietary fiber is largely calorie-free. Dietary fiber, also called roughage or bulk, is the part of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts that resist digestion in the human gastrointestinal tract.

Crude fiber figures on food labels only indicate the part of the fiber content of foods. Dietary fiber, more appropriately termed "total dietary fiber," is a more inclusive and accurate term for fiber content.


Water-soluble fibers, including pectins, gums and mucilages, are excellent water holders. Water-insoluble fibers also trap water and are mainly the celluloses. Soluble and insoluble fibers function differently in our bodies. No one kind of fiber is best; they are all useful.

Researchers generally agree that certain water-soluble fibers in foods can lower blood-cholesterol levels, but just how this is done is unclear. Some evidence suggests that soluble fibers can be converted by bacteria into volatile fatty acids that, in turn, may interfere with intestinal absorption and in-body synthesis of cholesterol.

National Cancer Institute recommends 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, begin eating more foods from whole grains, dried peas, beans, fruits and vegetables.

Look for recipes and buy products that are low in fat and added sugars.

Whatever your fiber intake, remember to drink at least six to eight glasses of liquids daily to maintain adequate supplies of body water and prevent dehydration.

Sudden increases in fiber intake may result in some gastrointestinal distress. To avoid this, increase your fiber intake gradually. It takes time for your intestinal tract to adjust.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County, University of Maryland.

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