The fiber of your being

by Karen Bowen

As fall is almost over, you are probably already preparing your rig for the winter – examining tires, hoses and wires for wear, flushing systems to remove buildups and adding products to improve efficiency. Maintenance is common sense – taking simple steps can prevent breakdowns and increase productivity.

Taking simple steps to maintain your healthy body can also prevent breakdowns, improve your productivity and even prolong your life.

One easy action that will help keep your body’s systems running smoothly is to add more dietary fiber to your diet. Not just a remedy for constipation, dietary fiber coupled with appropriate liquid consumption can also play a significant role in maintaining your overall health.

Dietary fiber consists of the parts of plant foods that your body can’t absorb or digest (not fats, proteins or carbohydrates) and is categorized as either soluble or insoluble.

Soluble fiber, found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium, etc., dissolves in water to form a gel-like material which helps lower cholesterol and glucose levels. Insoluble, found in whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, etc., increases stool bulk and promotes the movement of material through your digestive system. Since the ratio of soluble and insoluble fiber varies in different plant foods, it is beneficial to consume a broad variety of high-fiber options.

A high-fiber diet can help your digestive system in a variety of ways. It can normalize bowel movements by increasing the weight and size of your stool and softening it, making the stool easier to pass. On the other hand, fiber helps solidify loose, watery stools by absorbing excess water and adding bulk. As well, fiber can reduce your risk of developing hemorrhoids or small pouches in your colon.

Fiber is also a natural cleanser. It scrubs and helps eliminate toxins from your digestive tract, soaking up excess estrogen, unhealthy fats and chemicals, and transporting them quickly from your body. Studies show that a high-fiber diet can also lower your risk of colorectal cancer because the fiber that ferments in the colon feeds the healthy bacteria that maintains the lining of the colon.

Soluble fiber, particularly from beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran, offers specific health benefits. It helps lower total-blood cholesterol levels by trapping “bad” cholesterol until it is excreted. It can also improve your circulatory system by lowering your blood pressure and reducing inflammation.

In addition, soluble fiber can help control blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar, which may reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. High-fiber foods can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, since they tend to be more filling, helping you feel full longer. Being less “energy-dense,” the same volume of high-fiber food has fewer calories.

Studies also show that increasing your dietary fiber intake, particularly cereal fiber, reduces your risk of dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease. According to the Institute of Medicine, a man under 50 should consume 38 grams of fiber each day; over 50, 30 grams. A woman under 50 should consume 25 grams; over 50, 21 grams.

For the best quality fiber, eat raw or unprocessed foods, such as whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, legumes and nuts. Instead of canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white breads and pastas, and/or refined cereals, choose some of the following highest-fiber options.

For fruits, eat raspberries, pears and apples with their skins, bananas, oranges and/or strawberries. For vegetables, choose green peas, broccoli, turnip greens, brussels sprouts, baked potato with skin, and/or corn. For grains, try whole-wheat spaghetti, pearl barley, bran flakes, quinoa, oat bran muffins, oatmeal, air-popped popcorn, brown rice, and/or whole wheat or rye bread. For nuts, seeds and legumes, eat split peas, lentils, black or baked beans, chia seeds, almonds, pistachios, and/or sunflower seeds.

Whether snacking or stopping for a meal, feed the fiber of your being.

Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at 


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