Fiber Roughs It Out (cont.)

No wonder the public is confused. But don't toss that high-fiber cereal yet. Hold off on buying that loaf of soft, white bread. Fiber does guard against many serious health problems, especially heart disease. The research evidence on that is clear. Indeed, one study published in the October 27, 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that fiber-eating young adults had lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and were less likely to be overweight and develop diabetes.

Researchers say most of us should be eating twice as much fiber as we now consume. The average daily intake is only 12 grams, but we should eat at lease 25 grams of fiber.

That means packing your diet with fiber-rich foods. A small serving -- one cup -- of Raisin Bran yields 7 grams of fiber. A bowl of vegetarian chili at lunch could add to your daily total, with one cup of kidney beans providing more than 7 grams of fiber. Figure in some fruits and vegetables -- and perhaps a fiber supplement sprinkled into your juice -- and you're on your way to meeting your daily goal.

Food for the Heart

The reward for such efforts is a shield against heart disease, showed research published in the September 1999 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Studying the same group of women in the Harvard study, the researchers found that women who managed to eat at least 25 grams of fiber a day were 40% less likely to suffer a heart attack than were women who ate less than 9 grams.

Men get the same protection. In the Harvard Male Health Professionals study, researchers found that men who ate a high-fiber diet could cut their risk of suffering a heart attack by almost half, according to results published in the February 14, 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

How fiber works its magic still isn't clear, but scientists suspect that it coaxes the body to take more cholesterol out of the blood, preventing it from forming plaques in the arteries and causing heart disease.

Fiber also blocks the body from absorbing fat and cholesterol from food. In the April 1997 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, researchers reported that the more fiber volunteers ate, the more fat ended up in their stools.

Flushing Out the Pounds

Not only does fiber prevent absorption of fat, but it also helps you to feel satiated faster. As you fill up on high-fiber foods like grains, fruits, and vegetables, you'll have less room for high-fat and highly caloric low-fiber foods.

And fewer calories mean that eating fiber helps to maintain a healthy weight. Some researchers have calculated that if Americans doubled their intake of fiber, they could cut 100 calories from their diet a day, which could shave off 10 pounds of yearly weight gain.