Monday, August 21, 2023 4:35 PM
Taken from the book “Staying Healthy with Nutrition.”
want to say a few words about two important components of many of the foods from nature – namely, fiber and phytonutrients.
Here, I provide a second look at fiber as a health hallmark of food. Fiber is found exclusively in plant foods, and it is among the keys to their health benefits. Exactly how important are fiber-containing plants to our well-being? I answer this question by relating to the following surprising set of events.
During the 1990s, several large-scale clinical studies involving more than 75,000 participants were carried out to determine the effects of isolated nutrients (as opposed to whole foods) on health. Most of these studies focused on cancer prevention. The most common nutrient given to subjects in these studies was beta-carotene, the orange-colored pigment found in such plant foods as carrots. At least three of these studies were canceled midstream, letters were sent to the subjects informing them that the beta-carotene supplements they had been taking may in fact have increased their risk of cancer. Researchers were shocked at this outcome, and even today debate continues over the results of these studies. What seems striking to me about the cancellation of the studies is the fact that the 1990s also gave rise to several large-scale studies involving whole foods and cancer prevention – and not one of these studies was ever canceled. In fact, the studies found whole foods (particularly fruits and vegetables) to be cancer preventive. Unlike the studies of beta-carotene and other supplements, whole fruit and vegetable studies never failed to reduce the risk of cancer.
Why did whole carrots lower cancer risk 100% of the time when the beta-carotene extracted from carrots did not? I am convinced that the fiber in high-carotene vegetables played a role here. So much of our nourishment depends on the healthy passage of food through our digestive tract. Without fiber it is impossible for digestion to take place in a balanced way.
With imbalanced digestion comes the risk of poor nutrient absorption, and along with that comes compromised metabolism and inadequate health protection. The risk of most chronic disease is lowest when whole plant foods, especially vegetables, and plentiful in the diet. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and several types of cancer are least likely to occur when a person’s diet is high in vegetables and other high-fiber plant foods.
The connection between fiber and foods is so unique that I consider it the single best principle to follow when selecting grocery products. Particularly if you are purchasing a prepackaged food, looking on the nutrition label for grams of fiber per serving is the best way to go. It is difficult to find a crummy food that has 10 to 15 grams of fiber per serving.”