- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007

As a registered dietitian, Tanya Zuckerbrot knows a lot about fiber, and in some ways, that knowledge has changed her life.

Gone are the days when she would rush to the frozen food aisle for a quick family dinner idea. Instead, she has adjusted her routine so that she stops by the cereal or produce sections first to pick up some high-fiber treats.

However, many Americans don’t share Ms. Zuckerbrot’s affinity for fiber, and according to the American Dietetic Association, most adults only consume about half of the recommended daily fiber.

“You know, fiber has always had this really bad image, like prunes,” she says. “It has always been thought that you’d use fiber to go to the bathroom or lower cholesterol, but there’s so much more to it than that.”

With her book, “The F Factor Diet,” she says she is out to convince people that getting their daily dose of fiber may save their lives.

In the book, Ms. Zuckerbrot encourages dieters to abandon fad diets and counting carbs, and to adopt a new diet filled with fiber because of the associated health benefits.

But most people simply do not like fiber.

“The problem is getting it into your diet,” says Dr. Dorothy Ann Richmond, of the Department of Pediatrics at Georgetown University Hospital. “People should start with bran cereals, brown breads, breads with fiber, pastas with fiber, then work on things like vegetables.”

For the fiber deficient, there are two types of fiber that come from a variety of foods, soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber, which is fermented by the body and can lower cholesterol, can be found in all plant foods, such as peas, all types of beans, barley, fruits and vegetables like carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes and onion.

Insoluble fiber is the type that most people are familiar with. These fibers attract water, soften stool and include whole grains, bran, nuts and vegetables such as green beans, cauliflower, celery and the skins of others like potatoes.

There are some foods that have both types of fiber, like broccoli, potatoes, oats and rye.

However, despite the wide variety of foods available with high-fiber content, the American Heart Association says the average adult only eats about half of the recommended 30 grams of fiber each day. Children fare even worse, averaging less than 20 percent of the recommended amount.

Doctors suggest that men consume between 30 and 38 grams of fiber each day, or about 14 grams for every 1,000 calories they consume. Meanwhile, women should eat between 21 and 25 grams each day, and children older than 2 should eat their age in grams, plus five, until they are at least 14, when they can begin eating adult portions.

But making quick, dietary adjustments isn’t easy.

“The palates in your mouth get accustomed to a certain texture and taste, which is why I think we’re seeing an epidemic of obesity,” Ms. Zuckerbrot says.

This is because people are used to the tastes of fast and processed foods that typically do not have a high-fiber content, and because people just aren’t getting used to fiber, she says.

A reduced chance of obesity is just one of the many health benefits associated with a high-fiber diet. The American Heart Association says fiber can contribute to an increased diet quality, a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced cholesterol levels.

Other benefits include lower blood pressure, a reduced risk for certain types of cancer, regularity, and a reduction in premenstrual syndrome, acne and migraine headaches.

“This isn’t a new issue,” says Dr. Philip Rogers, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Georgetown University Hospital. “The problem is that people aren’t getting enough fiber because their sources of fiber are not things that they usually eat.”

But Dr. Rogers thinks that there is still hope.

One way to make sure that people are getting their fiber is to augment what they already eat, he says.

“We tend to get a great deal of protein, so if we augment that with other supplements, like fiber, we’ll be OK,” he says.

One way to do this is to bake bran into hamburgers. By doing so, consumers are increasing the amount of dietary fiber they are eating while still enjoying the taste of more common food.

Other options include dipping high-fiber fruits and vegetables into other foods like yogurt and peanut butter, which is also fiber-filled, or by making pancakes with whole-grain pancake mix and topping them with apples, berries or raisins.

Whole-wheat bagels and English muffins are also fiber-rich alternatives that can be used to increase fiber intake. English muffins, for example, can be made into mini-pizzas by topping them with pizza sauce, low-fat cheese, mushrooms and chunks of grilled chicken.

Dessert can also be made healthier by using whole-wheat flour or baking in bran when baking cakes, cookies and muffins.

But taste is always an issue.

Although adding supplements such as Metamucil to foods is a healthy option, it should never replace the actual foods, Georgetown University Hospital’s Dr. Richmond says. “It’s always better to eat the actual food than the supplement.”

Although she insists that eating foods that are naturally filled with fiber is always the best option, mixing in a supplement is still a good idea.

Dr. Lalita Kaul, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetics Association and a professor at Howard University Medical School, says taste is still important when cooking fiber into other foods.

“The important thing is for the food to be acceptable,” she says. “If you’re serving friends or family, you don’t want them to say, ‘Ehh, what is that?’ because you put too much bran or fiber into the food.”

For more information about sources for fiber, visit the American Heart Association’s Web site (www.americanheart.org). For other alternatives and fiber-based foods, visit KidsHealth’s Web site (www.kidshealth.org), created by Nemour’s Foundation’s Center for Children’s Health Media.

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