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Home  > Articles on Health  > Dr. Atkins on Fiber

Dr. Atkins on Fiber

The following article is an excerpt from Dr. Atkins' Vita Nutrient Solution:

What is Fiber?

"Fiber is the portion of plant food that is not digested by the body and is often referred to as roughage. Because the body does not absorb the substance, it took much effort on the part of Dr. Burkitt and others to convince Western medicine that this unused portion of food serves an important purpose. Fiber cleanses our intestinal tract and enhances its function, thereby benefiting nearly every digestive ailment. Metabolized by intestinal bacteria into substances that prevent colon cancer, fiber also dilutes and speeds the removal of carcinogens and other toxins in food so that they spare the delicate lining of the GI tract. It also helps achieve optimal blood sugar control and cholesterol levels by slowing digestion and maximizing cholesterol excretion. Fiber is found in whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, but not in meat, fish, eggs, cheese, or dairy products."

Where did the Fiber Go?

"The twentieth century has witnessed both a great reduction in fiber intake and a dramatic increase in our intake in our intake of refined carbohydrates. There can be no question that the general frightening escalation of degenerative disease is a result of both of these related phenomena. In the 1890s the large-scale refining of grains began, and grains like whole wheat were turned into white flour on a massive scale. In the same decade sugar consumption increased dramatically - as the rage for drinking Coca-Cola swept the nation - to the point where Americans now consume more fiber free sugar in a week than their nineteenth century counterparts did in a year. And alarmingly the 50-gram-per-day increase in carbohydrate intake over the past decade is due entirely to an increase in these fiber-free carbohydrates."

The Dark Side of Refinement

"The devastating effect of these refined carbohydrates first began to materialize in 1920, when a new word entered medical lexicons - "myocardial infarction," the scientific term for heart attacks. Hard as it may be to believe, heart attacks were unknown before the twentieth century (the first description of a heart attack in a medical journal appeared in 1912), and we have the food refiners to thank for its appearance. The clutching chest pain of angina, also a rarity, became much more common by the 1920s. And as refined carbohydrate foods like white bread and spaghetti made more of an inroad onto American dinner tables, our risk for a variety of digestive problems, including appendicitis, hiatal hernia, hemorrhoids, constipation, and diverticulosis increased. Low fiber, high-sugar diets also increase the risk for colorectal cancer, breast cancer, and, especially, diabetes and hypertension and their many consequences."

"Because low-fiber foods provide less long-term satiety, we began to overeat. The not very surprising result is that the twentieth century has become the era of obesity. Americans literally take the cake as the most overweight people in the world owing in large part to our over-consumption of refined, low-fiber foods. The obesity, in turn, has contributed to the epidemic status of all the problems I just listed."

Returning to Whole Foods

"For decades I have been urging my patients both to restrict carbohydrates (if they are overweight) and to consume more fiber. For many of them, this poses a dilemma and requires a personalized strategy. They need fiber sources that contain small to moderate amounts of carbohydrates, so I often recommend leafy green vegetables, freshly ground flaxmeal, nuts, and seeds. For people who need not restrict carbohydrates, whole grains, fruits, and legumes are excellent sources. Just don't think the benefits of fiber mean that you can eat all the whole-grain, high-carbohydrate foods you want. Even though they are far better for you than refined grains like white flours and pastas, many people are stuck with the fact that too many carbohydrates will make them fat. For those of you facing this dilemma, my strategy for solving it is this: The best way to increase your fiber intake is to use fiber supplements."

"Getting fiber in supplement form means that you can avoid the increased intake of carbohydrates and still get all of the nutrient's benefits. Wheat bran, oat bran, guar gum, apple pectin, and all of the pure fiber supplements contain very little digestible carbohydrates and therefore do not count as calories or toward your total carbohydrate intake. Now you know why I prescribe fiber supplements!"

Fiber: Soluble and Insoluble:

"Fiber comes in two basic forms: soluble (meaning it dissolves in water) and insoluble (it doesn't). Foods high in soluble fiber include oats and oat bran, barley, psyllium husks, flaxmeal, beans, peas, carrots, citrus fruits, and apples. This form has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and stabilize blood sugar by slowing the absorption of sugar from the digestive tract. This makes soluble fiber useful for diabetics, especially since it has been shown to help lower insulin and triglyceride levels. Soluble fiber also has the advantage of being free of the phytates, found in insoluble fibers, which tend to block mineral absorption."

"Insoluble fiber is found in such foods as wheat bran, corn bran, celery, and the skins of fruits and root vegetables. Its impressive list of benefits include reducing the risk of intestinal cancers, helping prevent constipation and diverticulitis, absorbing toxins from food, and reducing the production of bacterial toxins in the GI tract. Ideally one should balance both soluble and insoluble fiber to get the different benefits they confer."

Psyllium Husks

"One of my favorite fiber supplements, psyllium husks, help to alleviate both constipation and diarrhea, especially when combined with rice or wheat bran. Psyllium husks are an excellent source of soluble fiber, and many studies have shown that they lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Don't confuse psyllium husk powder with psyllium seeds. I find the husks more effective and unlike the seeds, they don't contribute to carbohydrate intake."

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