Fibre is not the most fashionable of foods. It's not as noble as protein, not as satisfying as fat and not as tempting as sugar or starch. But when you have to get things moving, who do you call? Not the mighty garlic.
Fibre is not the most fashionable of foods. It's not as noble as protein, not as satisfying as fat and not as tempting as sugar or starch. But when you have to get things moving, who do you call? Not the mighty garlic. Not the esteemed echinacea. Just "bring on the bran" and watch your troubles glide away!
Fibre is the cellulose, sinewy or bulky portion of fresh fruits and vegetables. It is found in virtually every food that grows. Fibre is available from grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, sea vegetables, nuts and seeds. Even some herbs are fibrous. They form a gummy, gelatinous substance (mucilage) that creates bulk. Seeds like psyllium, flax and chia, and herbs such as mullein, comfrey and slippery elm are all sources of gelatinous fibre.
Civilized societies are deficient in fibre because of their excessive dependence on packaged and processed foods. Grains are the most abundant source of fibre in the world. But processing removes the bran or jacket that is the fibrous portion. By removing it, along with the nutrient-rich "germ," only the sticky gluten part of the grain is left. While this is great for bakers (gluten holds together rising bread) it's bad for people. Gluten adheres to the walls of the intestines like plaster and blocks the absorption of nutrients.
The average North American eats only 15 grams of fibre per day, while 30 to 40 grams is recommended. A refined flour diet, along with high saturated fat consumption, goes hand in hand with increased risk of modern afflictions such as cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol and hypertension, to name a few. The consumption of whole grains as opposed to processed flour is the difference between the primitive and the industrialized diet. Primitive eaters have no colon cancer.
While fibre may not be stylish, it is fabulously functional. Toxic buildup in the colon is arguably the number one contributing factor to the development of colon and other cancers. Our digestive tracts generate toxins every day as byproducts of decaying food. Intestinal transit time is crucial. If food is delayed too long before being excreted, some of their waste products are reabsorbed. Not only that, but putrefying food becomes a breeding ground for bad bacteria, parasites and fungi such as candida. (Just think what happens when you leave rotting food lying around in your kitchen!)
Don't let your colon become a cesspool. If putrefactive bacteria become too populous, they eventually sneak into your bloodstream. The result of this sad sequence of events is diseases of the liver, stomach, colon, thyroid and pancreas and a debilitated immune system. Fibre to the rescue! Fibre grabs hold of these microbial toxins like a sponge and pushes them through our intestines like a locomotive. Once on board, there is no getting off. Researchers tell us that wheat bran, psyllium seed and pectin (from apples) protect against the development of colon cancer.
A Disease Fighter
Does fibre rest after such accomplishments? Not this indefatigable hero. From the colon it's onward and upward to the heart where fibre fights cholesterol. Rice and oat bran knock down the bad LDL cholesterol while simultaneously cranking up the good HDL cholesterol. Rice bran has also demonstrated the ability to prevent kidney stones.
Wheat bran has a fondness for women. As little as 10 to 20 grams per day lowers estrogen levels. Elevated estrogen levels are one of the factors implicated in the development of breast cancer. And rice bran loves men. Body-builders use it to stimulate muscle growth since it is the richest food source of "gamma oryzanol." This lipid or fat has been shown to increase lean body mass.
Brans provide excellent nutrition. They rank in the top position for many fundamental vitamins and minerals, including iron (rice bran 19.5 mg per 100 g), potassium (1,495 mg), silicon (643 mg), chromium (wheat bran 38 mcg) and folic acid (wheat bran 195 mcg). And bran is the number two food source of three crucial nutrients: niacin (rice bran 33.9 mg), magnesium (wheat bran 490 mg) and phosphorous (rice bran 1,676 mg). All of the brans are also good sources of B-complex vitamins.
Deficiency of dietary fibre is a risk factor for cancer, especially colon cancer. Fibre speeds up food transit time, binds carcinogens and reduces exposure to them. Eat 30 to 40 grams of fibre daily. In addition, the mucilage from psyllium seed stimulates the excretion of bile acids, alleviates constipation, suppresses appetite and helps to prevent colon cancer by stimulating the excretion of toxins. Drink lots of water to keep everything moving. Chronic constipation is the number one gastrointestinal complaint in North America and is especially aggravating for the elderly. Fibre improves stool consistency and frequency. Increased fibre and lots of water are our passports to better health.
Some say that fibre can "leach" nutrients. This is a distortion of the facts. Gel-type fibres (mucilages), such as psyllium seed, can envelop nutrients just as they envelop toxins. Don't take your vitamins with them. Drink mucilages on an empty stomach. Brans, however, do not envelop. They push, drag, scrape and bind. This is how they eliminate carcinogens. Yes, they can bind some nutrients too, but so does the fibre from vegetables or fibrous food. Don't worry, fibre cannot steal organically bound nutrients from your body.
Do You Get Enough?
Don't forget to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. They contain lots of cellulose and water. Just think of celery as an intestinal broom and carrots as a scrub brush. Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard, cabbage and collards are great scrapers. Fruits such as pears, apples, pineapple, grapefruits and oranges contain pectins which are gel-like, hold lots of water and inhibit colon cancer. Most seaweeds such as dulse, hijiki, nori and kelp contain algin, a fibre that does a good job of binding heavy metals such as lead, mercury and radioactive iodine. Seaweeds are also our best sources of minerals such as calcium and iron.
Soybeans, peanuts, peas and all beans are superb sources of fibre. Sprouting legumes increases their fibre content two to three times due to the growth of roots and shoots during germination. Adzuki, lentil, pea, mung, fenugreek, soybean, radish and even alfalfa (the tiniest legume) make great salad additions and are extremely nutritious. And if you have never tasted sprouted wheat "loaf" bread, you are missing a delicious, fibre-filled treat. It's the best bread you can eat and is available at some health food stores. Or make your own.
For more sprout information and recipes, read by Kathleen O'Bannon, CNC, number 30 in the alive Natural Health Guide series. Available at health food stores (or call alive books-800-663-6513).