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Fiber

Dietary fiber comes from the thick cell wall of plants. It is an indigestible complex carbohydrate. Fiber is divided into two general categories—water soluble and water insoluble.

Uses

Diverticular Disease
20 to 40 grams daily total from diet and/or supplements, plus extra fluids
A fiber supplement may improve constipation related to diverticular disease.

Type 1 & 2 Diabetes
30 to 50 grams daily (from supplements)
Taking fiber supplements may help to stabilize your blood sugar.

Diarrhea
Adults: 20 grams daily soluble fiber; for young children: 6.5 grams daily soy fiber
While fiber from dietary or herbal sources is often useful for constipation, it may also play a role in alleviating diarrhea.

Obesity
5 to 7 grams daily (from supplements)
Several trials have shown that fiber supplementation from a variety of sources accelerated weight loss in people who were following a low-calorie diet.

Where to Find It

Whole grains are particularly high in insoluble fiber. Oats, barley, beans, fruit (but not fruit juice), psyllium, chia seed, and some vegetables contain significant amounts of both forms of fiber and are the best sources of soluble fiber.

Possible Deficiencies

Most people who consume a typical Western diet are fiber-deficient. Eating white flour, white rice, and fruit juice (as opposed to whole fruit) all contribute to this problem. Many so-called wheat products contain mostly white flour. Read labels and avoid “flour” and “unbleached flour,” both of which are simply white flour. Junk food is also fiber-depleted. The diseases listed above are more likely to occur with low-fiber diets.

The benefits of eating whole grains are largely derived from the beneficial constituents present in the outer layers of the grains, which are stripped away in making white flour and white rice. Preliminary research has found that women who ate mostly whole grains had a lower mortality rate than women who ate a comparable amount of refined grains.

Side Effects

While people can be allergic to certain high-fiber foods (most commonly wheat), high-fiber diets are more likely to improve health than to cause any health problems. Beans, a good source of soluble fiber, also contain special sugars that are often poorly digested, leading to gas. Special enzyme products are now available in supermarkets to reduce this problem by improving digestion of these sugars.

People with scleroderma (systemic sclerosis) should consult a doctor before taking fiber supplements or eating high-fiber diets. Although a gradual introduction of fiber in the diet may improve bowel symptoms in some cases, there have been several reports of people with scleroderma developing severe constipation and even bowel obstruction requiring hospitalization after fiber supplementation.

Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds

Fiber reduces the absorption of many minerals. High-fiber diets also tend to be high in minerals, so the consumption of a high-fiber diet does not appear to impair mineral status. However, logic suggests that calcium, magnesium and multimineral supplements should not be taken at the same time as a fiber supplement.

Bran, which contains insoluble fiber, reduces the absorption of calcium enough to cause urinary calcium levels to fall. In one study, supplementation with 10 grams of rice bran twice a day reduced the recurrence rate of kidney stones by nearly 90% in recurrent stone formers. However, it is not known whether other types of bran would have the same effect. Before supplementing with bran, people should check with a doctor, because some people—even a few with kidney stones—do not absorb enough calcium. For those people, supplementing with bran might deprive them of much-needed calcium.


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