Fiber — If there was one element of our diets that we would ‘wish away’ it might be fiber. Fiber is what is left over after our bodies have squeezed every bit of nutritive value from the foods we eat. Don’t discount fiber, however. It is a very important part of a healthy diet.
Sadly, most older Americans get no more than 14.8 grams of fiber a day when you actually need 25 to 35 grams of recommended daily fiber to protect against disease! You can make up the difference by changing dietary habits and do it easily. Researchers have found an astounding 33% drop in cholesterol in some patients who did nothing more than increase fiber and reduce fat. And, there is research being conducted that indicates the perillyl alcohol contained in fiber shows promise of actually slowing down the growth of certain cancer tumors.
Before we take a look at how fiber can combat cancer, we need to explore the two different types of fiber — insoluble and soluble. Each type works differently to fight disease.
Insoluble fiber comes from a substance that forms in the cell walls of plants. The reason it is called insoluble is because your body does not break it down as it passes through the digestive system. It is what gives your stool its bulk helping it to move faster through your system. This is why certain foods that are high in soluble fiber like bran are said to be natures laxatives. Grain products and vegetables have loads of fiber. While at first look it appears more as rabbit food than cancer fighting, studies show that insoluble fiber helps to fight colon cancer and researchers believe it also helps to fight breast, pancreatic and prostate cancers as well. In Finland low rates of breast and colon cancer are linked directly to diets rich in cereals. Certain parts of Africa where people consume lots of high fiber foods the incidence of intestinal disease is practically nil.
Let’s take a look at how it works. Insoluble fiber will soak up water as if it were a sponge thereby making stools bulkier. That excess bulk spreads out cancer causing components over a larger area preventing them from grouping together to do damage. Fiber is the equivalent of a super highway through the intestines that gets things moving faster so there are fewer opportunities for any interaction between cells lining the colon and any cancerous agents. Fiber works with the levels of acids in the intestines changing the way that certain bacteria do the job. The result is increased fermentation. Yes, it may cause gas but it also makes it harder for carcinogens to get in your body. It also plays a role in regulating the levels of intestinal bile acids that play a part in the beginning stages of colon cancer. The “stuff” that causes breast, pancreatic and prostate cancers latch onto fiber like a magnet which means that those carcinogens are carried away with other body waste. Researchers believe that insoluble fiber also contributes to reducing levels of harmful estrogen that can contribute to the beginning of breast cancer. Experiments appear to suggest that doubling fiber intake and reducing fat can reduce the tumor rate by 50%.
If you can imagine eating foods that can actually stop or slow the growth of tumors wouldn’t you want to eat it? Well, you can. Whether canned or dried, Beans in any form contain large amounts of fiber. Reduce the amount of gas by soaking them overnight in clean, clear water. Rinse again thoroughly before cooking. Oat bran added to cereals or eaten as bread is a great source for additional fiber. Try eating brown rice instead of white. Brown rice will supply 3.32 grams of fiber per cup while white rice contains only 0.74 grams per cup. Whole grain bread products are a must. You can receive 3 grams or more of fiber per slice. Refined wheat loses fiber and removes trace minerals.
Read the labels in the grocery store, especially the fine print. The labels will tell you the fiber content of the food per serving. If the first three or four ingredients listed are grains it means that the product contains more grains than anything else. Learn to balance the benefit of fiber versus other ingredients. If a granola bar has one or more grams of fiber it is only a good deal if the fat and calorie content are low. A snack bar with 100 calories, 2 grams of fat and a single gram of fiber is probably okay. But if the bar contains 300 calories and more fat that’s way more than you need.
Introduce fiber in your diet one step at a time, gradually increasing and setting goals you can realistically attain. Storing easy to prepare foods in your pantry can help. Stock up on low-fat soups, canned beans and cereals that are all easy to prepare. Keep your freezer filled with vegetable that can be quickly steamed or zapped in your microwave. Keep the liquid from canned beans. There’s a lot of soluble fiber there that may just go down the drain. Save it to use in soups. Don’t peel fruits and vegetables. The skins of apples, pears, peaches and potatoes are rich in soluble fiber. Eating the white rind of oranges and the membrane in grapefruit also provide extra fiber.
Eat fruits and vegetable whole rather than as juices. You may get concentrated nutrients from the juices but you lose the fiber in the fruit. The 14 grams of fiber you get from eating six carrots outweighs the 2 grams in the juice you created with those 6 carrots.
Some people prefer taking a fiber supplement. There are many on the market, but be aware that most contain psyllium. While it is a source of fiber and a natural laxative it can interfere with certain medications you take. Be sure and check with your doctor.