The high fiber diet is a diet that incorporates large amounts of dietary fiber. Adding fiber, or bulk, in the diet is thought to help keep the bowels regular and possibly treat or prevent certain diseases. This diet involves specifically choosing a variety of foods that have high fiber content. A high fiber diet usually contains 20-35g of fiber per day.
According to the American Dietetic Association, the average American eats only about 12-17g of fiber per day, far less than the recommend daily intake of 20-35g. Only about 1/4 of this average daily intake is soluble fiber; therefore, the average American is eating only 3-4g of soluble fiber per day, which is well below the recommended amount of 5-10g.
Dietary fiber, also referred to as roughage or bulk, is the part of a plant that cannot be digested or absorbed by the body. Dietary fiber is found in grains, fruits, and vegetables. There is no fiber in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products. Soluble fiber can be found in foods such as oat bran, apples, citrus, pears, peas, beans, potatoes, seeds, oranges, grapefruit and psyllium (a plant product used in common over-the-counter bulk laxative and fiber supplement products such as Metamucil). Soluble fiber is dissolved in water and forms a jelly-like bulk inside the small intestine, which may help to lower cholesterol and reduce blood sugar. Soluble fibers act mostly in the small intestine, since they are destroyed in the large intestine through bacterial action.
Insoluble fibers cannot be dissolved in water and are not destroyed by bacteria in the colon. They are found in wheat bran, corn bran, nuts, cabbage, and root vegetables. Insoluble fibers work mainly in the colon where they add bulk and help retain water, resulting in a softer and larger stool, which may aid in the treatment of constipation.
The treatment of several gastrointestinal conditions is based upon the establishment of increased fiber in one's diet. Such conditions include irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis and internal/external hemorrhoids. Some research data also indicates that increasing the amount of fiber in the diet may decrease the incidence of colon cancer. Colon cancer includes cancerous growths in the colon, rectum and appendix. It is the third most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of death among cancers in the Western world. Additional benefits of a high fiber diet may include more favorable cholesterol levels and a lower risk of developing heart disease. The Food and Drug Administration recently authorized food companies to use a health claim for soluble fiber from both psyllium and oats. For example, the new claim for psyllium states, "Soluble fiber from foods with psyllium husk, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."
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The goal of the high fiber diet is to increase the amount of fiber in the diet. In order to do this, a person must know which foods are high in fiber, and which have little or no fiber. Most experts recommend that the amount of fiber is increased gradually (2-4g per week) to prevent flatulence (gas), bloating or diarrhea. There are many ways to increase the amount of fiber in a diet, including:
Substituting whole-wheat flour for half or all of the flour in home baked goods.
When buying breads, crackers, and breakfast cereals, make sure the first ingredient listed is whole-wheat flour or another whole grain. Wheat bran and oat bran can be found in a variety of cereals and breads. The label must say whole wheat or whole grain. Plain wheat bread has little fiber. Also be aware that brown bread is not always high in fiber. Sometimes bread is artificially colored to make it look more wholesome.
Using brown rice, whole grain barley, bulgur (cracked wheat), buckwheat, groats (kasha) and millet in soups and salads or as cereals and side dishes.
Replacing regular pastas with whole-wheat pastas.
Sprinkling bran in spaghetti sauce, ground meat mixtures and casseroles, pancakes, and other quick breads and in cooked cereals and fruit crisp toppings.
Eating skins and edible seeds of raw fruits and vegetables.
Including high fiber snacks, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Whole fresh fruits contain pectin, which is another soluble fiber. Figs, prunes, and raspberries have the highest fiber content. Certain green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and broccoli are higher in fiber than leafy vegetables like lettuce, which are mostly water and contain little fiber per serving. Root vegetables, including potatoes, turnips, and carrots are high in fiber as well.
Consuming beans, including pinto, navy, lima, kidney, and baked beans, which are high in soluble fiber.
Using whole grain or bran cereals for crunchy toppings on ice cream, yogurt, salads or casseroles. Nuts, toasted soybeans, sunflower kernels, and wheat germ also can add interesting flavors and increase the fiber content of you meal.
Including a variety of soluble and insoluble fiber food sources including whole grain breads and cereal, fruits and vegetables.
Eating Middle Eastern, Oriental, Mexican or other dishes that make liberal use of vegetables, whole grains and dried beans.
Commercial fiber supplements are available ranging from bran tablets to purified cellulose (an insoluble fiber). While it is more beneficial to increase the amount of dietary fiber by eating a variety of high fiber foods sources, persons unable to change their diets might benefit from fiber supplements. These products often contain plant fiber that absorbs water and adds bulk to the stools. The fiber supplement Metamucil, for example, is made from grain (the husk of the psyllium seed) and works similarly to foods that are high in fiber. The powder form of these supplements may be able to be mixed with water or various juices and then taken at mealtime or any other convenient time. Most of these products are available in instant mix packets, so that they can be used when traveling. Some are available in capsules or edible wafers.
Drinking at least 8 cups of fluid every day is recommended while on this diet; water, milk, juice and decaffeinated sodas, teas and coffee are also sources of fluid.