- Triggers the colon
- Protects the heart
- Prevents diabetes
- Helps maintain a stable body weight
Why do we need fiber?
Fiber gives volume to the stool
Fiber is needed for the colon to work normally. Fiber can not be decomposed in the small intestine, so it enters into the colon unchanged. The water is slightly reabsorbed, the fiber accumulates and stretches the colon wall with its volume. Stretching the colon wall helps to create medium intensity waves, which is the main impulse for the colon to work. Besides, it’s easier to push down the content when the colon is fuller. We can compare this with toothpaste – while the tube is full, you squeeze a little and paste comes out. When the tube is almost empty, you have to squeeze hard.
In addition to the work of the intestine, fiber is beneficial and influences other body functions: protects the heart, prevents diabetes and helps maintain a stable body weight. The effectiveness of fiber in the diet has long been recognized. Hippocrates, for example, described in 430 BC that black flour has a beneficial effect on the stool, as opposed to white flour.
How much fiber do we need?
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a scientific stance in 2010 on how much fiber we need to take into our bodies daily.
For the colon to properly function, we need to eat foods that contain at least 25 grams of fiber per day.
To lower the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes type 2, and maintaining a normal body weight, we need to take more than 25 grams of fiber per day.
Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) published “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans“ in 2010. They identified different daily requirements for fiber (25 grams per day for women, 38 grams per day for men, or 14 grams per 1000 kcal of food).
What did our ancestors eat?
Fashion and the colon have not changed for the last 35 000 years. Fashion accessories and fiber intake, however, have changed.
The Prehistoric man in the Stone Age ate about 100 grams of fiber per day. His stool was large and soft. Today’s man takes 15 grams of fiber a day, and that is why his stool is often small and hard.
Colon diseases such as hemorrhoids and diverticulitis have become so frequent that we consider them to be an everyday part of life. It was not so in the old times: our ancestors ate fruits they collected, and that food was rich in fiber. They loved meat as well, but they ate it only when they caught it. The flesh of wild animals has only one fifth of fat and a higher proportion of unsaturated fatty acids when compared to domestic animals.
According to the available data, the early man did not breed domestic animals or drink milk. Their food contained only a twentieth part of the salt that we eat today. Their diet consisted of plenty of grains and little meat, sugar and salt.
Our digestive system is designed for the digestion of such foods (to absorb as many nutrients). A fiber-rich diet was sustained during the rise of Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome and European countries all up to the early 20th century.
In the last hundred years, significant changes occur in developed countries: meat, milk, salt and sugar intake increases and grain fiber intake decreases. Alas, our digestion system did not change, so the colon is still expecting fibers. It does not know that we are now civilized and that we buy loads of fat, sugar, meat, and very little fiber at supermarkets.
What is fiber?
Fiber is actually of the cell wall of plants that digestive enzymes cannot break down. It is found only in plants. Meat, milk and eggs do not contain it.
There are two categories of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibers are cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. They are found in bran and in fruit peels and vegetables. Soluble fibers are pectin, gum and mucins. They are found in psyllium, juicy parts of fruits, beans and lentils.
How much fiber does each foodstuff contain?
The table shows how much fiber there is in 100 grams of food. Not all plant foods are equally rich in fiber. Cucumbers, for example, contain 0.6 grams, and lettuce 0.7 grams. It’s easy to calculate that you have to eat a pound of cucumbers to ingest six grams of fiber or a pound of lettuce to ingest seven grams of fiber. Whole grains and dried fruits are the richest in fiber. Popcorn is also good because it is prepared from whole grain corn.