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Fiber Roughs It Out

Can fiber prevent colon cancer? Studies are mixed. But there’s no doubt it’s good for your heart.

Food for the Heart continued...

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.

Protection From Diabetes

There's good reason to think that fiber can protect against diabetes, too, based on results published in the February 12, 1997 Journal of the American Medical Association. In a study of more than 65,000 middle-aged women, scientists reported that women who consumed the most fiber were significantly less likely to develop diabetes than those who ate the least.

A Defense Against Diverticulitis

Fiber could even cut into the number of Americans -- about half of those over 60 -- who develop a painful condition called diverticulitis, which occurs when outpouchings in the intestinal wall become inflamed or infected. In results reported in the November 1994 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the risk for fiber-eating males of developing diverticulitis was about half that of men who didn't eat much fiber.

Convinced? Don't jump in too fast. Incorporate fiber into your diet gradually to prevent the gas and bloating that can occur if your body is unaccustomed to digesting fiber in large amounts. And drink at least 8 cups of water daily to keep the fiber moving through your system.

And while the jury is still out on fiber's ability to prevent other diseases such as breast cancer, the scientific evidence, on balance, backs fiber's disease-preventing potency. Fiber's not glamorous. Disguised in shiny red apples and the crispy sweetness of garden fresh carrots, this beleaguered, shunned, and sometimes unappreciated nutrient can be quite a treasure. But regardless of how you see it, fiber still reigns.

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Reviewed on July 16, 2003

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