LCL Looks at the Industry
Health Benefits of Olive Oil
A Taste of the Orient
Man's View of Valentine's Day
Cooking with Herbs
Worried about Osteoporosis?
Expert Panel: Whole Grains
The Future of Low Carb
Fiber: Not Just for Breakfast
Fixing a Low Carb Disaster
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"The larger the island of knowledge,
the longer the shoreline of wonder."
— Ralph W. Sockman
A large bran muffin, a heaping bowl of Bran Buds / Flakes / Squares; oatmeal? we have been inundated
for several decades now with the message — Eat Fiber! Ready-made products flooded the market with
"High in Fiber" tattooed prominently on the package. The benefits of fiber were advertised
highly — bowel health, heart health, etc. — and many jumped on the fiber bandwagon. But
most were breakfast-based offerings and that does not give fiber its full due.
Fiber is a fantastic component of any meal and can be found in a wide variety of lowcarb-friendly
fare. Anytime is Fibertime! But to fully reap its rewards, one must understand this
complex carbohydrate and be aware of its forms and foibles before digging in with an
For lowcarbers, fiber is the friendliest of the carbohydrates. It is a tremendously large
molecule that the body simply does not have the mechanics to break apart. We ingest it; we
eliminate it. Pretty much end of story. Ok, it is not quite that simple, but almost. Fiber
moves through our digestive system without experiencing the digestive processes of other
biological molecules — the simpler carbohydrates, proteins and fats. However, it does take
up space, it fills the mouth, and is often associated with things that taste good, like
vegetables. So, you can eat fiber and the body feels like it is "eating," but without
breaking the chemical bonds that hold together the molecule. You, therefore, do not receive
the caloric or carbohydrate component fiber contains. Score one for fiber! A high-fiber
meal allows you to feel full, but keeps your calories and carbs in check. Fiber is also
linked to the prevention of certain cancers such as colon and breast and may help lower the
LDL (bad cholesterol) of individuals. Further, fiber can work to lower blood sugar levels,
which is important for diabetics and lowcarb adherents. Obviously, fiber is something to
which we want to send a Valentine's Day card?
But, fiber does come in different forms and each offers its own unique benefits. Based on
how the pieces of the molecule are arranged, fiber sorts into two categories — soluble and
insoluble. The compound on which we base this solubility designation is water. Soluble
fiber dissociates in water and insoluble does not. Soluble fiber appears solid in dry form,
but forms a jelly-like mass when combined with water. Insoluble fiber does not dissociate in
water and stays more or less a solid mass. What this allows is for each type of fiber to behave
a bit differently when it enters the body and have different "consequences." Both are important
for overall health, but one may choose to supplement with more of one type or another based on
personal health needs.
Insoluble fiber is the primary component of those "bulk-forming laxatives" you hear so much
about. Basically, it moves bulk material through the intestine — itself and whatever else you
have in its way. This will prevent/relieve constipation and promote general regularity, but
also serves to move more noxious materials through the colon at a faster rate. This has been
linked with a reduction in the incidence of colon cancers. Also, insoluble fiber helps to
control and balance the acidity in the intestines.
Some microorganisms linked with producing
cancer-causing substances in the colon thrive at an acidity away from our body's norm. By
keeping our colon acidity at the correct level, fiber thwarts the growth of these organisms
and works again to reduce our risk of colon cancer.
From where do we get insoluble fibers? Well, one could gnaw on wood all day like a termite,
but we fortunately have more palatable options available. Vegetables are fibrous wonders and
the green leafies are well-supplied with this healthy substance. Many fruits and root
vegetables contain fiber in appreciable amounts only in their skins. If you are on a plan/stage
where these are allowed, make sure to consume the whole food — skin and all — for the fiber
benefits. Whole grain products are far more fibery than their pallid counterparts. Flax seed
is a great source of insoluble fiber (as well as very healthy fats) and is quite appropriate
for lowcarb dieters. Other more obscure sources are corn bran and oat fiber. These can
generally be found through online retailers and can be used in baking to boost one's fiber
Soluble fiber is a gummy mass when mixed with water and this mass provides some welcome
benefits. Soluble fiber binds with fatty acids and this can help to lower total and LDL
cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. Also, soluble fiber prolongs stomach emptying
time. This prolongs your feeling of fullness, but also slows the release of sugars into the body.
It also helps to slow the absorption of sugars — a two-fisted punch against insulin surges! This,
of course, makes a lowcarber or diabetic giddy as it is another weapon in our arsenal against the
effects of insulin resistance.
Dietary sources of soluble fiber include whole oat products and oat bran, legumes (black soybeans
are a very good source and very lowcarb, to boot), flax seed, fruits and vegetables and psyllium
It is not hard to adhere to a lowcarb diet and include many of the fiber sources in the daily
food budget. Most people receive a 75%-25% ratio of insoluble to soluble fiber in their diets
through the consumption of a variety of foods. In fact, few foods contain only one fiber type.
Most contain a quantity of both, but may lean towards one or the other. By eating a varied,
healthy diet, it is not difficult to incorporate a good measure of fiber into the day.
What perfection! Low cal, low carb, big fullness, big health. An unspoiled canvas of benefits.
Oh, if life were that perfect?Although fiber is a benefit-blaster, it does have a few cautions.
First, fiber requires fluid. Say that over and over? Increasing your intake of fiber without
increasing your fluid intake is like packing your intestine with sand. Nothing is going anywhere.
You will work against your goal of being a "regular Joe" through this route. Too little fluid
will produce a level of constipation the likes of which you have never known (hopefully) and can
dehydrate you as the fiber sucks moisture across the lining of the large intestine. Liquid
greases the tracks and softens the fibrous mass, making for a much happier start to the day.
Normally, this is a relatively minor problem, albeit unpleasant, but in severe cases bowel
obstruction can occur and this can have quite dire health effects. It is best, always, to
slowly increase your dietary fiber over a period of time to allow the body time to adjust to
this new situation and monitor your fluid intake closely.
A more dangerous obstruction can occur, though, in the throat. Fiber swells when it comes in contact
with liquid, but needs copious liquid to soften and pass freely through body tubes. When you toss
down that big fiber cracker and start to swallow, the fiber grabs the mouth and throat moisture
and begins to swell. Without a chaser of liquid, the fiber cannot get the extra liquid boost
needed to soften and move down the throat. It can swell and block the throat and esophagus.
Yes, you could actually choke to death. Always consume your fiber slowly; chew before swallowing; and
consume with a goodly amount of your beverage of choice.
Lastly, too much dietary fiber can impede the absorption of nutrients into the body. The fiber
moves food through the system quickly, reducing absorption time, and physically blocks absorption
sites. While this is good for substances like sugars, it is not as good for vitamins and other
essential nutrients. Again, increase your daily fiber intake slowly, drink your water and monitor
the body for any unwelcome changes.
But, overdosing on fiber is a rare occurrence and the usual consequence is a temporary visit from
the Bloat Fairy. The benefits of fiber are numerous and can last a lifetime. Although lowcarb
diet plans are often painted with the black brush in terms of dietary variety, true lowcarbers
know this is balderdash. A successful lowcarb plan is rich in foods that provide both insoluble
and soluble fiber, as well as the other health-enriching nutrients in their coffers. In fact, we
all know that lowcarbers consume more servings of vegetables per day than most folks! Those on
maintenance or more liberal lowcarb plans can consume whole grains, fruits and legumes. Only
those people who approach lowcarbing as a free ride to Meatland, suffer from lack of fiber. If,
however, you do feel that you need to boost your intake, do so with healthy lowcarb choices.
There are fiber supplements on the market, but why spend the extra money when nature will provide?
Add flaxmeal to a shake or baked good. Have a few extra helpings of leafy veggies. A nice bowl of
black soybean or TVP chili. Psyllium and whey/soy protein make great pancakes and muffins! The
tasty possibilities are endless, easy and completely LC-friendly.
Copyright © February 2005 Cerise Cauthron and Low Carb Luxury
Title photo Copyright © 2005 Neil Beaty and Low Carb Luxury