Fiber is essential to good health. It is the bulk that helps move food and waste through our digestive tract. It acts like a broom in sweeping our digestive system clean, and it also acts like a sponge in absorbing toxins, hormones, cholesterol and bile salts so that they will not be reabsorbed by our body.
In addition to keeping things moving through our digestive systems, fiber nurtures healthy bacteria in our gut that balances pH, keeps harmful bacteria in check, and detoxifies chemicals in the gut that can cause cancer or other problems. Lack of fiber, seems to be the precursor to some common complaints such as diverticular disease, bowel cancer, appendicitis, and hemorrhoids. All of these diseases are virtually unheard of in cultures that consume plenty of fiber.
High fiber diets have wonderful health benefits. Fiber slows down the absorption of sugars and helps make foods low on the glycemic index. I have heard good results from diabetics who lowered blood sugar levels by increasing the amount of fiber in the diet. Increasing the amount of fiber in the diet also helps lower cholesterol.
The recommended amount of fiber in the diet is 25-35 grams per day.
As a general guideline, there are: 2-3 grams - per average serving of fruit, vegetable, raw nut, or whole grain; 5-6 grams - per serving of super vegetable such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, etc., and some whole grains; and 9-10 grams - per serving of dried beans (cooked, of course).
Notice that refined grains, sugar, meat and dairy are not included above. They do not contain fiber. Calculate what you are consuming in an average day. If you are like the average American, you are probably getting around 10 grams of fiber per day. Try to increase your fiber intake by increasing your servings of fiber rich foods. If you cannot get enough fiber through your diet, I recommend supplementing.
I prefer natural supplements without sweeteners and artificial ingredients. When supplementing, work up to your optimal fiber intake gradually. Additional fiber will help to clean your digestive tract which sometimes releases gas. Increase fiber in increments of 2-5 grams. Give your body about 7-10 days to adjust to this level before you increase again.
There are many good fiber supplements to choose from. I like plain old psyllium. It is inexpensive and comes in either bulk form for mixing in juice or water or in capsules. The more sophisticated forms of fiber include multiple forms of fiber along with enzymes, probiotics, colon cleansing herbs and super green foods. It is important to find one that you like and will use.
When increasing fiber, be sure to drink plenty of fresh water. Also, when increasing fiber, you may not be as hungry. Pay attention to this sign. Your body may want time to clean a little. Eating lightly during this time will help your body do its housekeeping.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.