We all know we need fiber in our diet to facilitate good stool function.  Fiber is the non-digestible parts of the foods we consume.  Fiber is found in fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, grains and legumes (beans).  Processed and refined foods often have much of their fiber removed.  For example, a slice of white bread has 0.6 grams of fiber whereas a slice of whole grain bread has 1.7 grams of fiber. One cup of corn flakes has 0.7 grams of fiber compared to 4.0 grams in a cup of cooked oatmeal.   A cup of cooked white rice has 0.6 grams of fiber while a cup of cooked brown rice has 3.5 grams.


       The benefits of fiber were clearly demonstrated back in the 1940’s when British surgeon Dr. Dennis, Burkitt, while doing public health work in Eastern Africa, found native Africans eliminated the wastes from food they eat within 30 to 35 hours while for his fellow Britons it was often up to 72 hours.  In addition, The Africans had virtually no constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, diverticulitis, colitis, spastic colon, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Cohn’s disease or colon cancer.  These problems are common in America and other Western countries.  The African intake of fiber was found to be around 40 to 50 grams per day obtained from their natural diet.

       For Americans the daily intake of fiber is 10 to 15 grams.  For many it is much less.  Research shows cultures around the world that have high fiber content to their diet have substantially less colon problems.  Yet when such cultures begin eating the refined, processed, low fiber diets so common to Americans, they develop the same colon diseases that so many of us have.

       The key to preventing colon problems is to increase transit time.  Transit time is the time it takes from the moment you eat a meal to the time you eliminate the wastes from the digestion of that meal.  The shorter the transit time, the less chance there is of waste material accumulating and sticking to the walls of the colon (large intestine). Fiber increases transit time by moving waste material through the colon and out through the stool.

       The colon is constructed of a series of pouch-like segments called sacculations.  When waste material is not moved out of the colon in a timely manner, this material begins to accumulate on the walls of these colon sacculations which begin to balloon.  Accumulation of waste also decreases the diameter of the colon, leaving only a small opening for fecal matter to pass on through.  As this process continues, the eliminative process becomes more and more sluggish and the potential develops for the kind of colon problems mentioned above.  

       The wastes produced by the body’s digestive process pass into the colon in a liquid form.  Muscular contractions move this liquid along the walls of the colon which begin to absorb the water from this liquid material. The solid material that is left forms the stool which is then eliminated.  In order to do this, the muscles of the colon must be able to contract.  This contraction, called peristalsis, is what moves waste material along its walls and out the body.   For this process to properly work, the diet must contain two basic types of fiber, soluble and insoluble.


      Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel as it passes through the intestinal tract. As it does this it picks up both current waste material and wastes that may have accumulated along the walls of the colon due to lack of consistent elimination. Since soluble fiber retains water, it helps to keep the stool liberated and thus facilitates a soft balky stool for easy elimination.  Soluble fiber also slows down the rate of glucose absorption from the breakdown of carbohydrate after a meal.  This can be very beneficial to a diabetic.  Soluble fiber also complexes with bile acids which are made from cholesterol in the liver, stored in the gallbladder and secreted into the small intestine to digest dietary fats.  By complexing with soluble fiber, this cholesterol derivative is prevented from being reabsorbed and is instead eliminated in the stool thus helping to lower cholesterol levels.


       Insoluble fiber does not absorb water and basically acts as roughage to promote peristalsis which is very important to the movement of waste material through the colon.  Insoluble fiber passes through the intestinal tract unchanged and adds bulk to the stool. Many insoluble fibers contain chemical compounds called lignans which have been show to have therapeutic effect in the body.  Several lignans found in flax seed have been shown to have anti-inflammatory activity and be protective against both breast and prostate cancer.

       Many commonly used plant sources of fiber contain both soluble and insoluble fibers. Psyllium husks contain a mixture of 70% soluble and 30% insoluble fibers. Oar bran is around 50% soluble and 50% insoluble fibers whereas wheat bran is around 90% insoluble fiber.  Flax seed is a good source of fiber and provides insoluble fiber about two to one over soluble fiber.


        The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories consumed. So, if you consume a 2,500 calorie diet, you should eat approximately 35 grams of fiber per day.  To get this much fiber requires a diet plentiful in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grain products and legumes.  Many Americans can’t or won’t eat such a diet.  You can supplement the diet by adding fiber products such as wheat and oat bran, psyllium husks and ground up flax seed.  Such fibers can be added to cereals, yogurt, and various baked goods.  At Milk ’N Honey we carry a product called Fortified Flax which is a ground up flax seed food which can be eaten right out of the package.  It has a flavorful nut-like taste.

        Getting sufficient fiber in the diet on a daily basis can go a long way toward preventing colon disease and facilitating better all around health.  Daily eliminating the wastes of metabolism is essential to a healthy body.  Begin today to increase your daily fiber intake.