Get the facts about fiber and your daily diet needs
Q. My wife insists on buying nothing but crunchy brown bread because she says it is good for us. I'm a bit skeptical about this and suspect we are victims of hype to sell this kind of bread. What do you think?
I'm presuming your wife wants to get whole grain bread to put more fiber into your diet. Whole grains are cereal grains that include the bran, the germ and the core of the kernel known as the endosperm. Bran is a tough, fibrous outer layer, which is a source of fiber.
Before the Industrial Revolution, we did not process grains. These grains gave us fiber (aka roughage), healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, plant enzymes, hormones and hundreds of other beneficial plant compounds.
The invention of industrialized roller mills in the late 19th century changed what we got from grains. Milling strips away the bran and germ of the grain, making it easier to chew and digest.
Consumers have to be cautious about what they buy to get fiber. The U.S. Department of Agriculture warns that foods labeled with the words multigrain, stone-ground, 100 percent wheat, cracked wheat, seven-grain or bran are usually not whole-grain products. Look for whole grain on the package.
Also, color is not an indication of a whole grain. Bread can be brown because of molasses or other added ingredients. You have to read the ingredient list to see if a product is made with whole grains.
The USDA recommends reading the nutrition facts labels on packages and choosing whole grain products with a higher percentage of fiber.
How much fiber is enough? The American Dietetic Association recommends a healthy diet include 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day. If you want a precise, personal estimate for fiber intake, you can use a fiber calculator provided by the University of Maryland Medical System. Go to http://www.healthcalculators.org/calculators/fiber.asp.
There are many health benefits to eating whole grains:
• Bowel health. By keeping the stool soft and bulky, the fiber in whole grains helps prevent constipation and diverticular disease, which is characterized by tiny pouches inside the colon that are easily irritated and inflamed. Softer stool also reduces pain from hemorrhoids.
• Longevity. A report from the Iowa Women's Health Study linked whole grain consumption with fewer deaths from non-cardiac, non-cancer causes.
• Cardiovascular disease. Eating whole grains substantially lowers cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin levels. Any of these changes would be expected to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.
• Diabetes. In people with diabetes, fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
• Cancer. The data on cancer are mixed, with some studies showing a protective effect and others showing none.
• Weight control. High-fiber foods generally require more chewing, which gives your body time to register when you're no longer hungry, so you're less likely to overeat. Also, a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and linger longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time.
To get more fiber in your diet, you should include whole grain products, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.
Fiber supplements such as Metamucil, Citrucel and FiberCon help, but getting your fiber from foods is better because supplements don't provide the variety of fibers, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients that foods do.
Warning - Fiber supplements can influence the processing of some drugs, such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin) and certain antiseizure and antidepressant medications. Fiber supplements can also reduce blood sugar levels, which may require an adjustment in your medications or insulin if you have diabetes.
Don't take fiber supplements before consulting your healthcare provider.