On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Even the ‘Regular’ Need Dietary Fiber

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I’m hoping you will weigh in: There’s an ongoing dispute at our house about the importance of a high-fiber diet if an individual is already “regular.” The argument is that fiber is not absorbed, so it provides no nutrients, and there is no need to consume it if you have regular bowel movements. I am having a hard time fighting this argument. -- F.S., San Diego

DEAR F.S.: There is some flawed thinking here that neglects what healthful eating is all about. Similar logic might have you arguing that there is no need to change the oil in your car because it is running fine. You’d face a hefty repair bill with the car, but the issues are more severe with your body.

A similar, and common, mistaken belief is that those on cholesterol-lowering drugs can feast on whatever they want because their medication keeps their blood cholesterol in the “normal” range. I’m afraid that that assumption is not right, and could be potentially dangerous.

Relieving constipation is perhaps fiber’s most notable role. But this nutrient -- yes, fiber is an essential nutrient -- is also associated with a lower risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, obesity, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids and ulcerative colitis. (For more on fiber, see b.link/j43qu.) All these potential benefits stem from the ability of the fibers in our foods to keep things moving, moderate the absorption of certain nutrients, bind unwanted substances in our digestive system and contribute to the digestive process’s overall health. In recent years, we have begun to study how fiber acts as sustenance to the flora in our microbiome.

At present, the typical American diet contains about 12 to 15 grams of dietary fiber per day, which is about half of what we need. Taking a fiber supplement may work for constipation, but supplements’ ability to achieve fiber’s other health benefits is questionable. Instead, opt for high-fiber foods, including fruits, vegetables and grains. Whole grains are the place to start.

Most people are surprised to learn that whole grains are a more concentrated source of antioxidants than fruits and vegetables on an ounce-by-ounce basis. Although this is principally due to the water weight in fruits and vegetables, it supports the idea that the most healthful way to go is to eat whole foods. Whether fruits, vegetables or grains, we want a food that contains the entire package of nutrients as produced by the growing plant. These components help protect the plant, and they can work their wonders in us, as well.

Finally, for any seeking to increase their fiber intake, do so slowly over a period of days or weeks. With rapid increases, there is a greater chance of side effects such as bloating, cramps, diarrhea and gas. Medications may also be affected, so check with your health professional before adding any fiber supplements to your diet.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.