Opinion

Feeling fine with fiber | Pepe

Virtually every patient of mine has come to me with symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, bloating and abdominal discomfort at some time in their life. There can be a variety of causes for these symptoms, but many times, a simple missing dietary element is the fix: dietary fiber.

Fiber is the indigestible carbohydrate component of nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Unfortunately, the average American only consumes half the recommended amount of fiber. But when consumed regularly and in the correct amount, dietary fiber can help address a host of digestive issues.

Increasing dietary fiber consumption can liberate folks from daily abdominal discomfort as well as render bowel movements more regular, lower cholesterol levels, lower the risk of heart disease, control weight, eliminate irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, control diverticulosis symptoms, help with blood sugar control and decrease hemorrhoids.

There are two types of dietary fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is associated with controlling blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and is associated with helping control diarrhea and constipation.

The most ideal way to increase dietary fiber is to increase the amount of high-fiber foods you eat, such as beans, fruits and vegetables. If that is not possible or realistic, taking daily supplements in capsule or powder form can help you achieve recommended fiber levels.

No good deed goes unpunished, so there are some side effects of increased dietary fiber. Some may experience side effects such as gas, bloating or abdominal cramps, which are primarily due to insoluble fiber, such as psyllium. These side effects can be prevented by starting with low daily doses of fiber and slowly increasing every four to seven days until you reach the recommended levels. Avoiding products that contain psyllium can also help avoid potential side effects. I recommend consuming powders rather than capsules because it’s easier and less expensive to get the appropriate dose of fiber from powders, which are mixed with water. Finally, avoid products containing maltodextrin and aspartame because maltodextrin itself is associated with abdominal discomfort and aspartame may increase one’s risk of gaining weight.

Once you’ve selected a dietary fiber supplement, determine how much total fiber is present per tablespoon and use the recommendations below to decide how much fiber you should consume daily for optimal bowel health. Women age 50 and younger should consume at least 25 grams of dietary fiber

daily; men of the same age should consume at least 38 grams. Women over age 50 should consume at least 21 grams of dietary fiber daily; men of the same age should consume at least 30 grams. Most Americans consume only 15 grams of dietary fiber daily, so almost everyone has room for improvement.

Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet is a simple change that can have a significant impact on your health.

To learn more, visit www.PartnerMD.com.

Dr. Harry Pepe is a Kirkland Reporter Contributor. To contact him call 425-780-4800.

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