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Fiber - The Key to Weight Loss and Long-Term Health

Updated on October 21, 2017
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Rob has studied many things along with his 20 years experience as a hypnotherapist/owner of Berkshire Hypnosis.

Out of all the tips and suggestions for weight loss and eating healthier, adding fiber to your diet could quite possibly be the absolute best piece of advice.  It starts a lengthy chain reaction of remarkably healthy events in the body.

This article explains in significant detail what fiber is, the intestine system, how to cleanse the system, health benefits of fiber, sources of fiber, and how to increase your daily fiber content in your diet.

A Little Background Information

What is dietary fiber?

First, know that the physical appearance of a food offers no clues to the amount of fiber it contains. A thick steak or roast (or even something like a soft-shelled crab, which is eaten in its entirety -- body, shell, bones, legs, claws, and all) may appear to be full of fiber, while a spoonful of light, powdery whole wheat flour seems too smooth to have any fiber whatsoever.

The term "fiber" denotes a group of complex carbohydrates found only in plant foods, with the fibrous materials making up the cell walls and other structural formations. This group of complex carbohydrates includes cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and pectin, which pass through the entire gastrointestinal tract without being broken down by enzymes.

Meat and dairy products do not contain any fiber at all. The toughest piece of meat or gristle, even if you cannot chew it, will be acted upon by the enzymes and gastric juices of your digestive system. Bones, too, if ground or crushed between the teeth, can be digested in the human body.

On the other hand, the fibers in whole plant foods cannot be altered by any digestive enzyme and pass intact through the gastrointestinal tract to form bulk in the lower intestine.

In whole, unprocessed carbohydrate foods, each starch-containing cell is surrounded by an envelope of fiber. This is the form in which our bodies were meant to accept carbohydrates. The modern refining process, however, breaks down the cell walls to expose the starchy interior, then removes the fiber, leaving "naked" carbohydrates. Our gastrointestinal tract was not designed to handle carbohydrates without their protective fiber coverings -- in nature, starch is not found naked. And our many "modern" health problems bear witness to the fact that our refined foods are simply not natural to the body's digestive process.

Insoluble and Soluble Fiber

Fiber is of two types – insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber, also called roughage, comes from foods like fibrous fruits, vegetables, and the bran layers of cereal grains. It helps in providing bulk to the bowel and cleaning the wall of the intestine, thus promoting regular bowel movement. It also helps control and balance the pH (acidity) in the intestines. Insoluble fiber does not absorb or dissolve in water. It passes through our digestive system close to its original form. It offers many benefits to intestinal health, including a reduction in the risk and occurrence of colorectal cancer, hemorrhoids, and constipation. The scientific names for insoluble fibers include cellulose, lignins, and also some other hemicelluloses.

Soluble fiber is "soluble" in water. When mixed with water it forms a gel-like substance and swells. Soluble fiber has many benefits, including moderating blood glucose levels, absorbing excess toxins, and lowering cholesterol. The scientific names for soluble fibers include pectins, gums, mucilages, and some hemicelluloses. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats and oatmeal, legumes (peas, beans, lentils), barley, fruits and vegetables (especially oranges, apples and carrots). In addition to building a healthy digestive environment, soluble fiber also helps form our stool.

Understanding the Intestinal System

Nature has provided us with 20 to 25 feet of small intestine.

The intestines consist of the small intestine and the large intestine. The intestines look like a very long, curvy tube wound up snugly in the lower to middle abdomen of the body. The small intestine breaks down and converts foods, absorbing the nutrients, so they can be carried throughout the body through the blood and thus utilized by tissues and organs.

In more detail, using from one to two pints of bile from the liver, aided by an equal amount of digestive fluid from the pancreas and five to ten quarts of secretion daily from its own 20 million minute glands, the small intestine converts starch into glycogen, proteins into amino acids, and fat into fatty acids.

Moved by peristaltic muscles, food passes through the intestine tube at a slow rate, stopping every few inches for periods of up to 30 minutes, allowing a complex of muscles to disintegrate the food by churning. In the small intestine, there are an enormous number of tiny projections called villi, which absorb the end products of digestion. Villi and folds in the walls of the small intestine cover the lining and greatly increase the surface for absorption.

As the churning process continues, the intestine's lining absorbs digested proteins and carbohydrates into the bloodstream and fats into the lymphatic system, leaving the remainder of mucus and dead cells, a gruel, to be passed on to the large intestine.

Compared to the small intestine, the large intestine is wider in diameter but shorter, about 5 to 6 feet long. There is no decomposition of food in the large intestine.

Progress is slower in the large intestine, the gruel requiring three to four hours to travel through its length. Unlike the small intestine, the large one abounds with friendly bacteria that manufacture B and K vitamins. The large intestine or colon, as it is known, extracts water and salts from the gruel, which are needed to properly maintain the body's mineral and fluid balance.

Depleted of nutrients and much of its fluid, the residue passes on to the rectum -- -the lower six inches of the colon -- where its presence triggers the defecation reflex, and we become conscious of our need to expel the waste.

Unclogging the Pipes

Surprisingly, most of the bulk in a stool consists of water, not food or food residue. But the water must be absorbed by the residue, and here is the problem: fiberless food can't absorb enough water to move easily through the colon. No matter what volume of fiber-depleted food we eat, there is not enough residue for the water to be absorbed into in order to create the soft but firm bulk needed for easy elimination.

But what happens to the water in the bowels that is not absorbed by the food waste? It is simply I reabsorbed by the body through the wall of the colon. This removal of water is quite a vigorous process, with the result that when scanty waste matter moves sluggishly through the bowels, even the small amount of water that it has managed to absorb can be removed from it and returned to the body. By the time waste matter reaches the rectum, it may be extremely compact and dry. It will also tend to be highly segmented and shaped by the contractions of the intestines. In contrast, waste matter which contains generous amounts of fiber, and therefore of water, tends to be large, soft, and unsegmented.

And so, the solution to "clogged pipes" is to somehow introduce more bulk into the diet, particularly the kind of bulk that will absorb and hold great amounts water. In other words... fiber.

Why is Fiber so Important?

The most effective, cheapest, easiest to use source of the fiber we need so badly is a readily available, long-forgotten substance we routinely refine out of our flour -- wheat bran. Bran is the outer portion of the wheat kernel which is removed from the grain when it is milled into white flour.

Using whole grain flour products (with bran intact) or simply adding bran to the foods you now eat can protect you from colon cancer, diverticulitis, chronic constipation, diabetes, obesity, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, hiatus hernia, peptic ulcer, diarrhea, gallstones, and even heart disease.

Believe it or not, all of these illnesses have been shown to be direct or indirect results of the inefficiency of our digestive and eliminatory systems brought on by our refined food diets.

Two other "civilized: diseases -- diabetes and obesity -- are now believed to be largely caused by consumption of refined, concentrated starches and sugars. The major sources of carbohydrates in the average Western diet are sucrose (refined sugar) and white flour -- both of which are stripped of fiber during refining. Because most of us have grown up with these foods as part of our customary diet, it's difficult for us to realize how unnatural such foods are and that our bodies are just not equipped to handle them in large amounts.

Other Health Benefits of Fiber

Fiber not only promotes health, it also helps reduce the risk for some chronic diseases. For instance, fiber prevents constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. Fiber is also linked to prevent some cancers especially colon and breast cancer. In addition, fiber may help lower the LDL cholesterol (the Bad cholesterol) and the total cholesterol therefore reducing the risk of heart disease.

Not only does it help ward off many diseases, it has been shown to aid in weight loss by reducing food intake at meals. This is because fiber-rich foods take longer to digest and thus result in an increased feeling of fullness and satiety. In addition, fiber can help lower blood sugar therefore help better manage diabetes since the more gradual absorption slows the entrance of glucose into the blood stream, thereby preventing large blood glucose and insulin spikes.

Sources of Fiber

The recommended fiber intake is 20 - 35 grams per day for adults, or 10 - 13 grams for every 1,000 calories in the diet. This recommended amount should come from a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber, since each type provides different benefits. While it's not necessary to track, a 3:1 ratio of insoluble to soluble fiber is typical.

Food Sources of Fiber

The following is a partial list of fiber food sources:

  • Vegetables such as green beans and dark green leafy vegetables
  • Fruit skins and root vegetable skins
  • Whole-wheat products
  • Wheat bran
  • Corn bran
  • Seeds & Nuts
  • Oat/Oat bran
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Nuts
  • Barley
  • Flax seed
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Psyllium husk
  • Bulgur wheat
  • Oatmeal
  • Buckwheat

Foods with the Highest Fiber Content

FOOD -- AMOUNT -- TOTAL FIBER (grams)

Avocado -- 1 medium -- 11.84

Black beans, cooked -- 1 cup -- 14.92

Bran cereal -- 1 cup -- 19.94

Broccoli, cooked -- 1 cup -- 4.50

Green peas, cooked -- 1 cup -- 8.84

Kale, cooked -- 1 cup -- 7.20

Kidney beans, cooked -- 1 cup -- 13.33

Lentils, cooked -- 1 cup -- 15.64

Lima beans, cooked -- 1 cup -- 13.16

Navy beans, cooked -- 1 cup -- 11.65

Oats, dry -- 1 cup -- 12.00

Pinto beans, cooked -- 1 cup -- 14.71

Split peas, cooked -- 1 cup -- 16.27

Raspberries -- 1 cup -- 8.34

Rice, brown, uncooked -- 1 cup -- 7.98

Soybeans, cooked -- 1 cup -- 7.62

Ways to increase dietary fiber in your diet

  • Choose whole fruits and vegetables (with peels when possible) instead of juices
  • Choose whole grain bread, cereals and pasta in place of their overly processed, refined counterparts
  • Replace white flour (or at least a portion of it) with whole wheat flour
  • Replace white rice with brown rice
  • Replace meat with beans or other legumes in meals. Lentils are perfect for this!
  • Eat a green salad daily (several times a week if not daily)
  • Sprinkle or add pectin, psyllium, bran, wheat germ, or other powdered fiber sources onto foods - you won't taste the difference

Google the following terms for excellent information::

list of foods and fiber content

fiber calculator

list of foods ranked by fiber content

A word about Unprocessed Wheat Bran

Unprocessed wheat bran stands out above other grain products as our best source of dietary fiber for several reasons. Bran is 85 percent dry material, but it has the property of absorbing large amounts of water -- it will soak up eight to nine times its own ` volume. It is this water that makes the large, soft stool that passes easily. Other fibrous foods, such as nuts, cannot match the absorptive ability of bran.

Also, bran is a highly concentrated form of fiber. It is approximately I2 percent crude fiber, which is about five times the amount in whole wheat. You can include bran in your meals every day without causing a major change in your dietary pattern. Bran is almost tasteless, having a somewhat dry flavor. It can be added to soups, sauces, and many other dishes without affecting the flavor of the food. If you bake, you can easily add it to muffins or bread. If you eat cereal for breakfast, add some bran to it. Or sprinkle bran on your buttered toast.

Another advantage of bran over such sources of fiber as nuts, dried fruit, and bread is that the calories (and other nutrients) in bran are absorbed only to a negligible extent. ln fact, bran can even be a valuable reducing aid because while it contributes few, if any, calories, it helps give your stomach that filled feeling. Just 20 grams of bran has the bulking effect in your stomach of 200 to 300 grams of most whole foods, so it satisfies you much quicker.

Summary

Because of the far-reaching effects of adding more fiber to the diet, if you take only one thing from the many articles and lists about losing weight and becoming more healthy, this one single thing would best be to add or increase the amount of fiber to the diet.

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