Every year, millions of Americans come down with the "stomach flu," or viral gastroenteritis. It can cause diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, fever, and headache. It’s also highly contagious. What treatments will make life with the stomach flu a little less awful? More importantly, how can you avoid getting it in the first place? Here are some answers.
“Part of the answer is that fiber helps normalize transit time, or the rate
at which food moves through the digestive tract,” says Joanne L. Slavin, PhD,
RD, professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota.
Fiber Regulates Digestion
Constipation happens when food moves too slowly through the large
intestines, often resulting in hard stool that is difficult to pass. Eating
fiber-rich foods helps move the contents of the large intestine along more
quickly. Fiber also absorbs water, softening stools so that they pass more
Diarrhea occurs when undigested food moves too fast, before the intestines
can absorb water, resulting in loose stools. Fiber’s ability to absorb water
helps make stools more solid. And by slowing transit time, fiber gives the
large intestines a chance to absorb additional water. Fiber also helps bulk up
the contents of the large intestines, binding indigestible food together.
“Having something left at the end of digestion and absorption turns out to
be necessary to form a normal stool,” says Slavin, a leading expert on fiber
Types of Fiber: Insoluble and Soluble Fiber
Fiber is the indigestible part of carbohydrates found mostly in plants.
Recent research reveals that there are many forms of fiber, each with a unique
effect on nutrition and health. Two important categories are soluble and
Soluble fiber partly dissolves in water, creating a gel-like substance that
helps lower cholesterol. Sources of soluble fiber include oats, barley, rye,
dried beans, oranges, and apples.
Insoluble fiber remains more intact as it passes through the digestive
system. That makes insoluble fiber especially helpful in preventing or easing
constipation. Insoluble fiber may also help with weight loss, by making meals
seem more filling without adding calories. Sources of insoluble fiber include
wheat, brown rice, celery, carrots, nuts, and seeds.
Foods can contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Fiber can also be distinguished on the basis of its source. Research
suggests that cereal fibers have an edge in aiding digestion, as well as
proving beneficial in protecting against coronary artery disease, type 2
diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
“Cereal grains are typically higher in total fiber than fruits and
vegetables, so that may explain why they stand out in research studies,” Slavin
says. Cereal fiber comes from oats, wheat, barley, and other grains.