Fiber: The Good Carbohydrate

All carbohydrates are similar in their composition, but not all carbohydrates are alike in their ability to prevent chronic disease.

Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grain breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables. They are also found in white bread and sponge cake, but the former foods have properties which can lower cholesterol levels, prevent certain cancers and help you lose weight as well. The difference is in what nature puts in and man's processing takes out: fiber.

Both the American Heart Association and the National Cancer Institute recommend we increase our fiber intake to 25 grams per day. The average American eats about a third of this amount. This fact may in part be responsible for our high rate of heart disease, colon cancer and obesity in this country. These diseases are practically nonexistent in countries with a high intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

The fiber found in whole grain breads and cereals has insoluble fiber. This type of fiber draws water into your intestines and helps maintain regularity. As food travels through your gut more quickly and is more diluted with water, the exposure of your gut wall to potential carcinogens is decreased.

The soluble fiber in oats, legumes, fruits and vegetables binds up bile acids and disposes of them. As stated previously, the body likes to recycle bile and use it over and over again. These fibers form a gel substance in the gut that prevents this recycling process. More cholesterol is used to create more bile and this helps increase cholesterol utilization which lowers serum cholesterol.

Fresh fruits and vegetables have an additional benefit. They are loaded with antioxidants, phytochemicals and vitamins which neutralize "freeradicals". Researchers believe free radicals are unstable compounds created from the metabolism of fats and/or environmental factors (like car exhaust or cigarette smoke). They may be responsible for oxidizing LDL cholesterol which implants itself into arterial walls causing heart disease. They also may be responsible for altering the cell's metabolism resulting in abnormal cellular growth food in cancer. Either way, eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is a cheap and easy way to avoid these chronic diseases.

Not to mention how full you feel after eating them! These foods greatly help us to feel as if we have eaten something substantial and they do so with fewer calories. Compare the caloric density of a pound of apples versus a pound of "Tootsie Rolls": 263 calories versus 1200!

A word here about sugar. Is it bad for you? No. Is a lot of sugar bad for you? Maybe. That depends on how much and how often you eat foods rich in sugar. If you replace meals with candy bars, you run the risk of short changing your body of essential nutrients, gaining body fat from the excess calories and rotting your teeth. If, however, you simply have a piece of candy after your meal and brush your teeth, there is nothing to worry about. Let common sense be your guide.

Take a look at the following table which lists the fiber content of foods:

 Food Fiber Grams Food Fiber Grams
 1/4 c. Grapenuts  1.4 3 c. Popcorn  7.5
 1 sl. Wholegrain Bread  1.4  1/2 c. All Bran  13.0
 1 c. Wholegrain Pasta  1.4  1/2 c. Fiber One  12.0
 1/2 c. Kidney Beans  7.3  1/2 c. Lima Beans  4.5
 1/2 c. Peas  3.6  1 Medium Potato  2.5
 1/2 c. Corn  2.9  1/2 c. Carrots  2.3
 1/2 c. Broccoli  2.2 1/2 c. Green Beans  1.6
1 Medium Apple  3.5 3 Dried Prunes  3.0
 1 Medium Banana  2.4  1 Medium Orange  2.6
 1/4 c. Raisins  3.1  1 c. Strawberries  3.0


Adding more fiber to your diet isn't difficult. A bowl of high fiber cereal with raisins in the morning adds 15 grams of fiber. A sandwich made from whole grain bread at noon and popcorn as an afternoon snack adds another 10.5 grams of fiber. So far you are up to 25 grams of fiber and your day isn't over yet. Top off dinner with a medium baked potato with broccoli and you add another 5 grams for a total of thirty for the day.

The best part of eating this way is the amount of food you get to eat...without getting fat. Fiber helps add volume to your meals without additional calories. This is the key to eating well...without wearing your groceries!

Tips For Eating More Fiber

  • Whole grain breads and cereals contain important trace minerals such as zinc and magnesium used to make muscle tissue.
  • Beans, aside from containing soluble fiber, contribute protein, trace minerals and iron. Try dishes like minestrone or split pea soup for lunch or dinner. Or try tossing some garbanzo or kidney beans on a salad.
  • Popcorn is a terrific high fiber, low fat snack for late night T.V. marathons.
  • Burger wheat or couscous is a good change from standard starch side dishes.
  • Bagged salads have taken much of the drudgery out of washing, shredding and preparing salads. No more decaying heads of lettuce to throw out!
  • Try keeping raisins at your desk for a "sugar fix" in the afternoon.
  • Blend a breakfast shake with non-fat yogurt, milk, strawberries and banana. This you can take on the road with and sip while commuting to work.
  • On the way home from work, nosh on an apple or banana. You won't be as hungry when you walk through the front door and you will make wiser choices at dinner.
  • Try the recipes on the high fiber cereal boxes. You can freeze muffins and take them to work for breakfast.



1. Did you eat 4 to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables each day?

2. Did you choose whole grain breads and cereals?

3. Did you try to include some bean dishes in your diet?

4. Did you try any high fiber cereals?

5. Name the two types of fiber in the diet?

Material © San Franisco Spine Center. Used by Permission.

Updated on: 04/05/10