Fiber is a complex carbohydrate found in cell walls that can't be digested. While fiber falls under the category of carbohydrates, it does not provide the same number of calories, nor does it have the same physical properties; thus, very different physiological responses occur when eating fiber.
Unless you're just back from a long trip to Timbuktu, you have probably heard about the the importance of adding more fiber to your diet. Not only does fiber lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels, and improve large bowel function, but it also reduces hunger feelings and overall food intake.
Here is a closer look at the findings from several fiber studies:
In 15 non-insulin-dependent diabetics with hyperlipidemia (excess fat in the blood), a controlled study conducted by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found that high fiber consumed in conjunction with fish oil reduced cholesterol and improved lipid profiles3. A Brazilian cross-sectional study conducted on 214 patients with type 2 diabetes found that high fiber intake, particularly soluble fiber intake, reduced the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. In particular, "Daily intake of at least 5 g of soluble fiber was associated with a reduction of 54% for the presence of MS [metabolic syndrome]4." The UCLA article, already mentioned once before, noted that another benefit for diabetics was that soluble fiber "can help stabilize blood sugar levels [...] by delaying stomach emptying. This slows the rate of carbohydrate absorption, improves regulation of blood sugar, and lowers insulin requirements5."
The University of Paris conducted a double-blind cross-over study on 13 men with type 2 diabetes, in which the active group ate a breakfast with a low glycemic index and three grams of beta-glucans (about as much as is found in the Omega Cookie, thanks to our oat content). As a result, those study participants experienced a decrease in plasma cholesterol, which could reduce the risk of developing further cardiovascular complications6.
Children's Hospital in Boston conducted a multicenter population-based cohort study, with a focus on fiber and heart disease risk, on 2,909 adults ages 18-301. They found that high fiber-diets lowered insulin levels, resulting in protection from cardiovascular disease and obesity, in addition to reducing several other cardiovascular disease risk factors.
One of the heart disease agents fiber fights is cholesterol. As UCLA explained, "Research indicates that soluble fiber binds to bile acids in the intestines, causing them to be eliminated. Since fewer bile acids are available, the liver draws cholesterol from the bloodstream to make more5." (Note that the quote specifies soluble fiber - this will be further discussed later.) As a result, blood cholesterol levels fall.
Fiber slows digestion, particularly the absorption of carbohydrates and fat, so people feel full for a longer period after eating a high-fiber meal. Adding fiber to a meal allows a person to eat more without adding calories. An article published by the Journal of Nutrition, which analyzed the results of several previous relevant studies, noted a correlation between high fiber intake and an adherence to a low-energy diet2. In other words, the feeling of fullness left behind from a high-fiber meal made dieting easier for the study participants.
Put simply, fiber's water-holding capacity cuts down on constipation (assuming you're not dehydrated). This has the added benefit of decreasing the risk of hemorrhoids5.
Fiber could possibly even help prevent colon cancer. Because fiber aids regularity, it reduces the amount of time waste products and potential toxic substances are in contact with intestinal cells. Moreover, it dilutes the amount of toxic substances, making them less harmful5.
There are two types of fiber: soluble (able to be dissolved in water) and insoluble (can't be dissolved in water), and both are important to any diet. However, insoluble fiber is much more common than soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is especially effective in helping lower blood cholesterol levels5. The Omega Cookie has an unusually high soluble fiber content: three of its six grams of fiber are soluble, whereas most fiber sources contain only 25% fiber.
To determine how much fiber your diet should include, go here and plug in your age, gender, and recommended calorie intake. The gist of it is that adult women should get 20 to 25 grams of fiber every day; adult men, 30 to 38. Yet the average American ingests only 15 grams of fiber every day. The good news: the Omega Cookie can help you start boosting your fiber, giving you six grams of it in every single delicious treat. To get the rest of your fiber, we recommend you eat more whole grains, cereals, beans, and whole fruits and vegetables.
1. The Journal of the American Medical Association: "Dietary fiber, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease risk factors in young adults." 27 October 1999.
2. The Journal of Nutrition: "Dietary Fiber and Energy Regulation." 2000.
3. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effect of high fiber intake in fish oil-treated patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus." November 1997.
4. The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Intake of soluble fibers has a protective role for the presence of metabolic syndrome in patients with type 2 diabetes." 2009.
5. The University of California, Los Angeles: "Facts of Fiber." 2005.