DEAR DR. BLONZ: Can you get too much fiber in your diet? I don't usually have much. I know I need more, and I am working my way up, but I don't enjoy the unpleasant effects of a fiber-rich meal -- especially when out with friends. -- F.S., San Jose, California
DEAR F.S.: One can have too much of any food, and fiber is no exception. While there are proven health advantages to having the recommended intake level, it's best to avoid an unusually hefty amount of fiber at any one sitting. This is especially true if one is in the process of working toward the recommended norm, as you are.
The human body is programmed to make efficient use of its resources and energy. This natural preference for digestive economy is expressed by physical adaptations to any habitual eating style. Simply put, our bodies get used to the way we normally eat. Most people have experienced different reactions when trying new seasonings or cuisines. Traveling to a distant place and adjusting your meal schedule to local time would have a similar effect. In either case, your body might find ways to tell you, "I wasn't quite prepared for that."
As for fiber, it provides unabsorbed bulk that affects the rate at which foods move through the digestive tract. It therefore also affects what ends up in the large intestine to be worked on by our microbiome. (See some frequently asked questions about the microbiome at b.link/2446rv.) Adding large amounts of fiber to a system not accustomed to it can lead to short-term bouts of cramps, bloating, diarrhea and gas -- not ideal in social situations. All of this can be made worse, and even become risky, if large amounts of fiber are consumed without sufficient fluids.
Assuming there are no issues with your digestive system, there are no reasons to avoid fiber for its transient side effects. A reasonable strategy is to slowly but surely integrate higher-fiber foods into your daily routine until you arrive at the recommended level -- about 25 to 30 grams per day. Read more on dietary fiber at b.link/j43qu.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I cleaned out a kitchen cabinet and had to make some decisions about my stored grains. What is the shelf life for flours and other grains? In particular, I am interested in polenta: It seemed fine in its sealed bag, but it had been there for about a year. -- K.L.B., Dobbs Ferry, New York
DEAR K.L.B.: Grains, especially whole grains, should be stored in a cool, dry place in airtight containers. Whole grains contain the germ and the endosperm, with the components needed to start and nourish the next generation of the plant until it can get its shoot open and begin collecting energy from the sun. The germ also contains essential fatty acids and other nutrients essential for this purpose. The bran is the outer coat that protects the grain from oxidation and other physical or microbiological assaults that might impair the new growth.
While each grain has its unique properties, over time, these protections wane, giving edible grains their "shelf life." Whole grains will keep four to six months on the shelf, and longer in the freezer. Check the information and storage chart from the Oldways Whole Grains Council at b.link/etw5st.
If your polenta is in its original sealed bag, it should be labeled with a freshness date, but it sounds as though it is well past its prime.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.