After decades upon decades of focused, dedicated effort by mainstream medical science to reduce the modern plagues of the big three—Diabetes, Cancer and Heart Disease, the results are disappointing. In the US, coronary heart disease is still the leading cause of death for both men and women, diabetes is rising amongst our population at a rate that threatens to bankrupt our healthcare system, and cancer, after billions upon billions of dollars spent on medical research, has grown to statistically affect 1 in 3 of us before we die.
What is one of the foods that when consumed on a regular basis can dramatically reduce the incidence of all three? It is a nutritional component that the average American only consumes one-half of the daily requirement—15 grams instead of the recommended 30 to 35 grams a day. What’s this nutrient? Fiber of course—get more fiber in your diet!
What can high fiber foods do for you?
Soluble fibers, such as the type found in oat bran, are known to reduce blood cholesterol levels and normalize blood sugar levels. On the other hand insoluble fibers such as the type found in wheat are known to promote bowel regularity. A high intake of viscous fibers play a role in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. In addition, by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach, viscous fibers promote a sense of satiety or fullness, after a meal, which helps to prevent overeating and weight gain.
Soluble fibers are fermentable fibers, and help maintain healthy populations of friendly bacteria. In addition to producing necessary short-chain fatty acids, these bacteria play an important role in the immune system by preventing pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria from surviving in the intestinal tract.
Insoluble fibers, fibers that are not fermentable in the large intestine, help maintain bowel regularity by increasing the bulk of the feces and decreasing the transit time of fecal matter through the intestines. Bowel regularity is associated with a decreased risk for colon cancer and hemorrhoids (when the hemorrhoids are related to straining and constipation).
A diet high in fiber may play a role in the prevention and treatment of the following health conditions: breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, constipation, diabetes, diverticulitis, gallstones, high cholesterol, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity and metabolic syndrome.
What exactly is fiber?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. Ok, what is carbohydrate?
The carbohydrate family includes sugar, starch, and fiber. Most forms of carbohydrates are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Plants are the main source of carbohydrates. During photosynthesis, plants produce glucose by using carbon and oxygen from carbon dioxide in the air, hydrogen from water and energy from the sun. Plants either store the glucose or transform it into starch, fiber, fat or protein.
The simpler forms of carbohydrates are called monosaccharides and disaccharides. The common monosaccharides are glucose, fructose and galactose. The sugar alcohols, which are derivatives of monosaccharides, include sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol. Additional monosaccharides found in nature are ribose and deoxyribose. Then there are the eight essential saccharides: glucose, galactose, mannose, xylose, fucose, N-acetylglucosamine, N-acetylgalactosamine and N-acetylneuraminic acid—to be discussed at another time.
Carbohydrates containing two monosaccharides are called disaccharides: maltose is made up of two glucose molecules, Sucrose is made up of glucose and fructose and lactose is made up of glucose and galactose.
Oligosaccharides are complex carbohydrates that contain 3 to 10 single sugar units. Oligosaccharides can not be broken down by our digestive enzymes. But bacteria in the colon can metabolize them into gas and metabolites.
Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates that often contain hundreds to thousands of glucose molecules. The polysaccharides include some that are digestible, such as starch, and some that are largely indigestible, such as fiber. The digestibility of these polysaccharides is mainly determined by whether the glucose units are linked together by alpha or beta bonds. Our bodies have the enzymes to break apart the alpha bonds but not the beta bonds.
Starch is the storage form of glucose in plants. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose in humans.
So let’s get back to fiber. Fiber is indigestible polysaccharides. Total fiber or just the term fiber refers to the dietary fiber that occurs naturally in foods as well as the functional fiber (fiber that provides health benefits) that may be added to food. Currently, Nutrition Facts on labels mostly include only dietary fiber and do not reflect any added functional fiber.
Fiber, as the indigestible portion of plant foods, has two main components:
Fibers are composed primarily of non-starch polsaccharides cellulose, hemicelluloses, pectins, gums, and mucilages. The lignins are the only non-carbohydrate components of dietary fibers. Unlike the digestible polysaccharides that contain alpha bonds, the monosaccharide units in fibers are linked by beta bonds. These are not broken down by human digestive enzymes. Pectins, gums and mucilages are most readily digested by the intestinal bacteria. Cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignins are more resistant to being broken down by bacteria.
Cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignins form the structural part of the plant cell wall in vegetables and whole grains. Bran layers form the outer covering of all seeds; thus, whole grains (those in which the bran has not been removed ) are good sources of fibers. These fibers do not dissolve in water.
In contrast to the insoluble fibers, pectins, gums, mucilages and some hemicelluloses dissolve easily in water and are classified as soluble fibers. They occur naturally inside and around plant cells in oat bran, many fruits, legumes and psyllium.
The best sources for fiber are whole grain foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts. Like we say with all foods, eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.
In today’s Clinical Notes we are highlighting the Beta Glucan Synbiotic Formula. The Beta Glucan Synbiotic Formula combines the five powerful probiotic organisms that were highlighted in last week’s Forward Thinking plus the added multidimensional health benefits of adding oat beta glucan fibers, red beet root fiber, and inulin (soluble fiber from chicory root).
Kind of looks like a turkey … kind of looks like a vulture … what is it? Native American cultures from both hemispheres worship this amazing bird. They are the largest flying bird in North America and second only to the Wandering Albatross in South America. Have you guessed its identity yet? It is a carrion eater, preferring large animal carcasses like deer or cattle. They are the New World vultures … the ultimate gliding machine … this marvelous creature is the majestic Condor.