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Vitamins & Minerals
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.
How to Use It
Western diets generally provide approximately 10 grams of fiber per day. People in less-developed countries consume 40 to 60 grams per day. Increasing fiber intake to the amounts found in such diets may be desirable.
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.
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. The most common adverse effects of dietary fiber are minor gastrointestinal symptoms. There have been several reports of allergic reactions to psyllium. In rare cases, obstruction of the large or small intestine has occurred in people consuming wheat bran or bran cereal.
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. However, 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 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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