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Fiber Fiber Everywhere

On my radio show recently I had to admit I made a mistake. I have had no use for oatmeal and thought people were crazy to eat it. -Tastes like cardboard unless you add demon sugar to it. But in researching about health and diet I discovered that oatmeal at least is good for one thing … Fiber … (one more thing you are not getting enough of)

Fiber has been studied and higher fiber intake has been shown to slow coronary artery disease, improve diabetes, and decrease the likelihood of cancer in particular colon cancer (which remains one of the top cancer killers of men and women alike).

Fiber refers to non digestible carbohydrates and that means fiber is a form of sugar but it’s not demon sugar that I usually rail against. It’s safe sugar in fact. It is important sugar but it’s not what you are pouring on your waffles or icing your cakes with. It’s a non digestible carbohydrate. There are two forms of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber reduces cholesterol absorption, delays stomach emptying, slows sugar absorption, makes you feel fuller and helps prevent sugar spikes. The good bugs in your gut feed on this type of fiber. This type of fiber is found in oatmeal, nuts, seeds and lentils. The other type of fiber is insoluble and doesn’t get digested by you or your gut bacteria and acts to add bulk to your stool. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and this is important to avoid constipation and prevent diverticulosis. Insoluble fiber is found in wheat bran, whole vegetables and grain. Many foods like oatmeal and apples have both soluble and insoluble fibers.

Insufficient fiber in the diet leads to diverticulosis. This is a condition in which lack of fiber causes small outpockets to form in the colon and these can become inflamed and result in sometimes serious illness requiring hospitalization and/or surgery. We used to tell patients with diverticulosis to avoid fiber and this is another example of well meaning advice that turned out to be wrong.

Fiber has been studied and higher fiber intake has been shown to slow coronary artery disease, improve
diabetes, and decrease the likelihood of cancer in particular colon cancer (which remains one of the top cancer killers of men and women alike). There was a Harvard study where they followed doctors for 6 years. The group with the highest fiber intake had a 40 percent reduction of coronary artery disease. No statin can give you results this good.

Are you getting enough fiber? If you are reading this in America … probably not. Most of us get only 11-15 grams a day on average. -But you need 21-38 grams of fiber a day. Women are said to need somewhat less than men … hence the range.

Another interesting fact about fiber deficiency is that if the bugs in your gut are not getting enough food in the form of fiber they have to eat so they try to eat the lining of your colon … making the lining leaky … creating an inflammatory process with ramifications beyond your gut. Also some bacteria —those with flagella which act like propellers— will travel from the colon to the small bowel creating a host of issues referred to as SIBO: Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth syndrome. When this happens zonulin is released and interestingly this is the same chemical released when people have gluten issues. Dr. Rhonda Patrick says that fiber is the most important factor in gut health.

Many fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber. Artichokes and avocados have 10 grams of fiber. Other sources include broccoli, brussel sprouts, onions, garlic, oatmeal, and apples. I cannot in good faith recommend any breakfast cereal no matter how high the fiber content because that alone is not enough to make any cereal healthy for you. -But oatmeal, for now, gets a passing grade in the fiber department.

Fiber is one more reason to eat healthy right from the start. If you are not getting enough fiber from your natural diet you can supplement fiber and psyllium husk is the most popular commercially available fiber but you can also try glucomannan a fiber sourced from the Konjac root that is supposed to absorb up to 50 times its weight with water. This acts like a gentle scrub brush as it passes through your bowels. It’s touted for its weight loss potential. The scrub brush/sponge holds onto the sugar in your guts so you absorb less of it. I wouldn’t plan my weight loss program around it but a weekly dose might help you stay healthier longer.

Hopefully I got through a whole article without being too controversial but don’t worry … there is always next months column.

Until then … get well …  and stay well.

Dr. Barry
Dr. Joseph T. Barry, MD is Board Certified in both Internal Medicine and Geriatrics. He has relationships with Community General Hospital and has worked at Van Duyn Home and Hospital since 1989. He also has a longstanding relationship with the Iroquois Nursing Home.

Dr. Barry believes you must treat the whole person and not just the presenting problem. He believes there is a real and important connection between your brain, your body and your spiritual self.