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Nutrition facts: fabulous fiber.

Let's talk fiber. Did you fall asleep yet? If you think fiber is about the least sexy topic ever, think again, at least while you digest these fiber facts. Fiber may be the biggest dietary favor you can do for yourself. Although not without certain controversies in research circles, there is no question regarding the overall beneficial impact of a diet with plenty of fiber: it is very, very good for you.

About a year ago the headlines caught a lot of attention with research disparaging fiber's role in colon cancer prevention. Long held as the most important staple for colon health, the New England Journal of Medicine reported on research that cast serious doubt on that particular virtue. While this and other studies like it must be confirmed by clinical trials before the controversy is resolved, it might be a good time to list some of fiber's other virtues, which are not at all in doubt.

First, one of the best things about eating lots of fiber-rich foods is what you aren't eating. A diet high in fiber is likely to be relatively low in animal products that include artery-clogging saturated fats. Reducing your intake of saturated fats is one thing that is known to reduce the risk of colon cancer. So while it may not be fiber, per se, that is preventing colon cancer, it could be that protection is provided indirectly.

Dietary fiber has also been associated with lower risk of other cancers such as breast cancer. It has been suggested that carcinogens may bind to fiber and leave the body, reducing long-term absorption and exposure to cancer-causing substances. Key is the fact that fiber is found in foods that are high in phytochemicals and antioxidants known to protect against cancer. A diet high in fiber is necessarily one that includes lots of fruits and vegetables.

Therefore, cancer protection may be due in part to the good company fiber keeps. Anyway you slice it, fiber is not to be trifled with.

High fiber foods are nutrient dense, generally low fat, highly satisfying foods. Fiber fills you up and takes more time to digest and so you feel full and satisfied longer than with calorie-dense, highly processed foods. Think about how you'd feel after eating a low fat bran muffin and an apple versus a donut. Which snack will satisfy your hunger longer with fewer calories to show for it? The result is a diet chat may make a healthy weight easier to maintain.

Fiber is a key player in the prevention of heart disease. For both men and women, research has continued to show that long-term dietary fiber intake significantly reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Heart disease benefits seem to come especially from cereal sources, which contain high levels of soluble fiber. One study showed that for middle-aged women, every five-gram increase in cereal fiber resulted in a 37% decrease in heart disease risk Dietary fiber intake has also been associated with lower "bad" cholesterol levels, the low-density lipoproteins.

In other studies, fiber has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar in those at risk for Type II diabetes; to decrease the incidence of blood clots that may cause heart attacks and strokes; and to lower blood pressure. Did we mention that fiber keeps you regular? Obviously this may be its least sexy virtue, but if you're honest, even if fiber offered nothing else in its defense, this one alone might win quite a few fans.

The average American diet contains only half the recommended 20 to 35 grams per day of fiber needed to promote health. Because an average serving of grains, fruits, or vegetables contains only one to three grams of dietary fiber, it is easy to understand the shortfall. In order to achieve healthy levels of fiber in your diet, the American Dietetic Association suggests eating at least two or three servings of whole grains, five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and legumes once or twice a week. Still awake? Eat your fiber. (Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 281, No. 21, pp. 1998-2004; European journal of Cancer Prevention, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 17-25; American journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 70. No. 3, pp. 307-308; journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 282, No. 16, pp. 1539-1546; Position of The American Dietetic Association: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber)
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Publication:Running & FitNews
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
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