In spite of proclamations by the National Cancer Institute that at least one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States may be related to the foods we eat, Americans still don't get enough fiber in their diets.
It is estimated that the average American consumes a mere 11 grams of fiber each day, compared to the 25 to 35 grams recommended by the institute. And, while studies have proven that public awareness of the link between diet and heart disease is on the rise--from 45% in 1982 to 80% in the mid 1980s--there are still too many people who are overweight and who do not eat properly.
The second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the USDA, showed that on the day of the survey: 79% of the respondents ate no fruits or vegetables high in Vitamin A, 72% ate no fruits or vegetables rich in Vitamin C, 84% ate no high-fiber bread or cereal, 82% ate no cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage or cauliflower), 41% ate no fruit at all, and 49% ate no vegetables other than potatoes, beans or salad. In addition to the nutrients these foods provide that were mentioned, all of these are excellent sources of fiber.
Dietary fiber, roughage and bulk are all accurate terms for the undigestible part of plants that is important to human beings for digestion. "Normal and Therapeutic Nutrition," by Corinne H. Robinson, et. al., (Macmillan Publishing Co.: 1986) explains that the importance of fiber in maintaining normal elimination has been recognized for centuries.
Recently, however, there has been renewed interest in the role of fiber in the diet--the result of reports that in epidemiologic studies of cultures with a high-fiber intake a low incidence of diverticulitis, irritable colon, hernia, hemorrhoids, colon cancer, coronary heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dental caries and gallstones can be demonstrated.
"People in the Western world whose diets are low in fiber have a high incidence of these diseases," the book explains.
Insoluble fiber is widespread in such foods as wheat bran, peas, dried figs, beans and legumes. It is the thread or wood-like part found in the husks and shells. This variety of fiber holds water and thus increases bulk, thereby hastening the amount of time it takes for food to move through the digestive system. The result: Toxic substances that may be present in food, such as carcinogens, stay in the body less time.
Soluble fiber, such as that found in the cell walls of oats, apples, pears and citrus fruits, is similarly beneficial for increasing bulk and promoting laxation. But because it is dissolved in water, it has the capacity to form gels. This slows digestion and delays the absorption of carbohydrates into the body, which reportedly helps to stabilize blood sugar levels by decreasing the body's insulin secretion. A lower blood cholesterol can result.
When deciding to include more fiber, of either type in the diet, it is important to include it as part of a varied diet--one in which a wide assortment of food categories are represented. This, according to the institute, is the best way to ensure that all the nutrients--including fiber--that the body needs, are provided.
Here are some foods and the amount of fiber they provide: one-half cup high-fiber cereal that can offer, depending upon the commercial brand, between 4 and 13 grams of fiber; one-half cup kidney or navy beans, 6 to 7 grams; one-half cup lima beans, 4.5 grams; one cup-whole wheat spaghetti, 3.9 grams; one-half cup broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots or corn, 2 to 3 grams; one medium apple, three dried prunes, one-fourth cup raisins, one-half cup green peas or one cup strawberries, 3 to 4 grams; and three dried dates, five dried apricot halves, one-half cup green beans, one slice whole-wheat bread or one-half cup fresh pineapple, 1.5 to 2 grams.
1 (3-ounce) package Neufchatel cheese
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 1/2 tablespoons chutney
24 whole, pitted dates
6 cups cut-up fresh fruit such as pineapple, bananas, melons, berries, kiwi, apples, oranges, pears and grapes
Combine cheese, nuts and chutney. Fill each date cavity with about 1 teaspoon mixture and chill. Just before serving, toss fruit with some Ginger-Citrus Dressing. Arrange along with dates on lettuce-lined plates, dividing equally. Spoon remaining dressing over all. Garnish with mint. Makes 6 servings.
1/4 cup oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger root
1/2 teaspoon grated orange or lemon zest
Whisk together oil, vinegar, juice, ginger, zest and honey and salt to taste in small bowl or measuring cup.
BLACK-EYED PEA AND CHAYOTE SALAD
1 chayote squash or 2 zucchini or yellow squash
1 1/4 cups cooked black-eyed peas
Bibb or romaine lettuce leaves
2 tablespoons chopped pimiento
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed