What Kind of Fiber: Think Volume Rather than Type

Soluble. Insoluble. Viscous. Fermentable. Fiber's many forms can confuse the most ardent health nut and even nutrition professionals debate the precise benefits of each type. Thankfully, then, a series of recent studies have lifted one clear message above the noise: Don't fret the categories, but focus on total fiber; getting lots of it from unprocessed plants will lower your risk of health problems well into your golden years.

That message has been taken to task by a French study. When researchers examining close to 6,000 people associated fiber intake with high blood pressure, cholesterol and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, they came up with a complex latticework of benefits by type and source of fiber. For example, fiber from cereals was linked to lower body mass index and blood pressure while fiber from dried fruit and nuts was associated with a lower waist-to-hip ratio.

With two exceptions, this type of breakdown is far too picky, says Texas A&M University nutrition scientist Joanne Lupton, who chaired a National Academy of Sciences panel on dietary reference intakes for fiber. "The more I read the studies," she said, "the more it really is quite clear to me that it is fiber from the diet-total fiber-that's beneficial."

Observational studies on cardiovascular disease support Lupton's claim. The massive Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, among others, found that adults who consumed the most total fiber, near the recommended 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams for men (double what typical Americans consume) are much less likely to suffer heart problems. "Collectively, it's about a 30 percent risk reduction in heart disease," Lupton says.

The big disappointment, however, is that current research has found no connection between fiber and colorectal cancer. That news undercuts the safety net of many people with a family history of colon cancer since doctors, depending upon intuition and encouraging animal studies, have long recommended high-fiber diets. Still, there may be some as-yet-unknown factor in fiber that produces a positive effect, says John Baron, an epidemiologist at Dartmouth Medical School.

Lupton says the data are stronger for type 2 diabetes, since a high-fiber diet has been linked to lower risk in several major studies. Other research shows that eating fiber may help prevent obesity and, of course, constipation.

In the end, many experts believe total fiber may really just be a proxy for healthy eating habits. "My feeling is that fiber itself has an effect, but other things-known or not-in healthy foods are also important," says Denis Lairon, the researcher who conducted the French study.

"High-fiber foods are nutritious foods," adds Lupton. "If you were to meet your recommended intake for fiber from foods and not exceed your calorie allotment, it would be extremely difficult to not eat a good diet."

The Exceptions
Some fibers may prove better than others in the case of two specific health conditions. To combat sky-scrapingly high "bad" cholesterol levels, Mark G., a psychologist who lives just outside of Boston, makes a bowl of oatmeal every morning using 3?4 cup old-fashioned oats. This provides 3 grams soluble fiber, the type that binds LDL "bad" cholesterol and prevents it from wreaking havoc in his blood vessels. Along with regular exercise and some weight loss, Mark's morning "medicine bowl" (a suggestion from his physician) has lowered his cholesterol by 40 points. Good choices of soluble fiber: barley, oatmeal, beans, peas, citrus fruits, pears, apples, strawberries and eggplant.

Insoluble fiber, which absorbs water and increases in bulk, helps move food through the gastrointestinal tract, helping prevent constipation. Good choices of insoluble fiber: most whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread and wheat bran, cabbage, beets, bananas, carrots, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts.

Bottom Line:
Eating 25 grams of fiber per day (for women) or 38 grams (for men) seems daunting-until you make it a habit.

A day's sample menu (grams are per cup):
Raisin bran = 7 g
Raspberries = 8 g
Whole-wheat spaghetti = 6 g
Black-bean or lentil soup = 7 g


Chocolate Mousse a l'Orange
Enjoy this low-fat mousse spoonful by lovin' spoonful: it is just as luscious as its full-fat cousin.

Makes 6 servings

ACTIVE TIME: 40 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 4 hours 20 minutes

3/4 cup low-fat milk
6 2-inch-long strips of orange zest
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
1 large egg
1 cup packed light brown sugar, divided
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
2 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons water
1 2-ounce block bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate for chocolate shavings (optional) (see Tip)

  1. Heat milk and orange zest in a small saucepan until steaming. Remove from the heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Discard the orange zest. Sprinkle gelatin over Grand Marnier in a small bowl; let stand until softened, about 1 minute.
  2. Whisk together whole egg, 1/4 cup brown sugar, cocoa and the infused milk in another saucepan until smooth. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the softened gelatin mixture, stirring until the gelatin has dissolved. Add chocolate and vanilla; stir until the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  3. Bring about 1 inch of water to a simmer in a wide saucepan. Combine egg whites, cream of tartar, water and the remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar in a heatproof bowl large enough to fit over the saucepan. Set the bowl over the barely simmering water and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, moving the beaters around constantly, until an instant-read thermometer registers 140°F. (This will take 3 to 5 minutes.) Increase the mixer speed to high and continue beating over the heat for a full 3 1/2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and beat the meringue until cool, 4 to 5 minutes longer.
  4. Whisk one-fourth of the meringue into the chocolate mixture until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold the chocolate mixture back into the remaining meringue until completely incorporated. Spoon the mousse into 6 dessert glasses and chill until set, about 3 hours.
  5. If making chocolate shavings, place chocolate on wax paper and microwave, uncovered, at medium-low (30 percent) power for 15 seconds. Turn chocolate block over and microwave for 10 to 15 seconds longer, or just until the chocolate has softened slightly but has not started to melt. Use a vegetable peeler to shave off curls. (If the chocolate is too hard to shave easily, warm it again.) Garnish each mousse with chocolate shavings, if using, and serve.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 289 calories; 9 g fat (4 g sat, 1 g mono); 38 mg cholesterol; 53 g carbohydrate; 8 g protein; 5 g fiber; 68 mg sodium; 237 mg potassium. 3 1/2 Carbohydrate Servings.

Tip: To make chocolate shavings: Place a block of chocolate (2 ounces or larger) on wax paper and microwave on Defrost until slightly softened but not melted, 15 to 30 seconds. Use a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler to shave off curls. If the chocolate gets to hard to shave easily, warm it again.

MAKE AHEAD TIP: Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

More Quick and Healthy Dessert Recipes

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili
A rich, dark and flavorful combination of our favorite Southwestern flavors. It also doesn't hurt that sweet potatoes and black beans both make the cut as superfoods. Serve with some warmed corn tortillas and Orange & Avocado Salad.

Makes 2 servings, 2 cups each

ACTIVE TIME: 20 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 30 minutes

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chile (see Note)
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 1/3 cups water
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and potato and cook, stirring often, until the onion is slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, chipotle and salt and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add water, bring to a simmer, cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the potato is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in cilantro.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 374 calories; 6 g fat (1 g sat, 4 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 67 g carbohydrate; 14 g protein; 15 g fiber; 697 mg sodium; 603 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (410% daily value), Vitamin C (45% dv), Iron (30% dv), Potassium (17% dv). Exchanges: 4 starch, 1 1/2 vegetable, 1 fat. 3 1/2 Carbohydrate Servings

Note: Chipotle peppers are dried, smoked jalapeno peppers. Ground chipotle can be found in the specialty spice section of most supermarkets.

MAKE AHEAD TIP: Add all the ingredients except the cilantro; cover and refrigerate for 2 days. Reheat, stir in the cilantro and add more lime if desired.

More Healthy High-Fiber Recipes and Menus

Tuscan-Style Tuna Salad
This streamlined version of a northern Italian idea is perfect for a summer evening: no-fuss, no-cook and big taste. You can even make it ahead and store it, covered, in the refrigerator for several days. If you do, use it as a wrap filling for the next day's lunch.

Makes 4 servings, 1 cup each

ACTIVE TIME: 10 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 10 minutes

2 6-ounce cans chunk light tuna, drained
1 15-ounce can small white beans, such as cannellini or great northern, rinsed (see Ingredient note)
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 scallions, trimmed and sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine tuna, beans, tomatoes, scallions, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Stir gently. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 253 calories; 8 g fat (1 g sat, 5 g mono); 53 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrate; 31 g protein; 6 g fiber; 453 mg sodium; 451 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Fiber (25% daily value), Vitamin C (20% dv). 1 Carbohydrate Serving. Exchanges: 1 starch, 1 vegetable, 3 1/2 very lean meat, 1 fat

Ingredient Note: When you use canned beans in a recipe, be sure to rinse them first in a colander under cold running water, as their canning liquid often contains a fair amount of sodium.

MAKE AHEAD TIP: Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

More Healthy High-Fiber Recipes and Menus

From www.eatingwell.com with permission. © 2008 Eating Well Inc.

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Fiber is one of the most effective ways to lose weight without feeling deprived. Foods high in fiber can help us shed a few pounds with minimal effort. Eating less food isn't necessary to weight loss, but changing the type of food can help us attain that goal.
Dietary fiber (sometimes called "roughage" or "bulk") is the part of a plant that provides and maintains the plant's structure. This fiber cannot be digested by the human body; as it moves through the intestines (colon) undigested, it helps to keep food moving smoothly, helps to correct certain disorders of the colon, keeps the intestines functioning normally, and makes it easier for the body to eliminate waste through the stool.

Good in so many ways, fiber is easy to add to your diet.

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