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The Wall Street Journal recently called fiber the missing ingredient in the American diet. And in October, the Mayo Clinic Health Letter suggested that those not getting enough fiber might want to try supplements.
Our grandmothers called it "roughage," and it's part of a well-balanced diet. Here is what the Mayo Clinic letter says about high-fiber foods: "They help with regularity, digestion and staying lean. A high-fiber diet may reduce your risk of certain health conditions such as diabetes, colorectal cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, high cholesterol and obesity."
Fiber is that which is left over from plants that the digestive system can't break down. Foods in this category include oatmeal, cauliflower, broccoli, beans and peas.
There are two kinds of fiber - indigestible and digestible.
Indigestible fiber helps move food through your colon, and results in softer, larger stools. This kind of fiber is found mainly in wheat bran, whole-grain breads, cereals and vegetables.
Digestible fiber may help lower cholesterol and blood sugar. It is found in oats, beans, peas and fruit, for example.
It is generally recommended that adults get 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day. For those not getting enough, the Mayo letter said, bulk-forming supplements such as Benefiber, Citrucel, FiberCon, Konsyl, Metamucil and Perdiem Fiber Therapy may be helpful.
The letter cautioned that if you're considering this option, you should start with small doses, drink plenty of liquids and continue to try to get plenty of fiber from food. As with high-fiber foods, the supplements can create a feeling of fullness. So if you're overweight, you might want to take the supplements before meals, and vice versa if you're underweight. As with any supplement, check with your doctor.
In recent years, there have been conflicting findings over the role of fiber in protecting against colon cancer. The Harvard Health Letter reported last year that it may be that just the fiber in fruits and vegetables (especially broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale) help protect against colon cancer.
It will take further research to resolve that issue. Either way, the reason we're having this discussion is the overall low fiber content in American diets, in part due to the popularity of packaged foods.
The Wall Street Journal survey found little fiber at all in many packaged foods. For example, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes milk-and-cereal bars had only 1 percent of the recommended daily amount of fiber, compared with 3 percent in a serving of the original cereal flakes.
Quick and easy? Better to sit down to a bowl of cereal.
(Diane Evans is a staff writer at the Akron Beacon Journal. Though she has researched the information in this column, she has no training in medicine or science. Readers should consult carefully with their physicians before relying on anything in the column. If you have questions or suggestions for Evans, contact her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
(c) 2003, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.