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Dietary Fiber—A Potential Antibiotic?

Fiber found in whole grains is already known to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Now, other types dietary fiber may have the potential to replace antibiotics, lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels, according to emerging Australian research.

Dr Graeme McIntosh and colleagues at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Adelaide are investigating new types of dietary fiber— including resistant starch and shorter chain oligosaccharides— that could help fight infectious bacteria and prevent the development of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Practical Tips

Chew well to enjoy all the benefits of high fiber foods. Inadequate chewing can prevent the health benefits of fiber from being realized, since fibers that cannot be solubilized (like lignins, celluloses, and some hemicelluloses) require extra chewing in order to participate in biochemical processes.

While most of us think primarily of whole grains as good sources of fiber, many of the World’s Healthiest Foods are rich in this important nutrient. According to our stringent criteria, excellent sources of dietary fiber include mustard greens, collard greens, chard, celery, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, raspberries, and lentils.

Very good sources of dietary fiber include winter squash, carrots, Brussels sprouts, summer squash, black beans, pinto beans, flaxseeds, barley, and buckwheat.

Good sources of dietary fiber include leeks, apricots, avocado, prunes, sweet potato, brown rice, sesame seeds, and almonds.

Following are a few ideas for adding fiber to your meals:

  • This weekend, cook several cups of brown rice (remember, one cup uncooked rice = 2 cups cooked rice) to add to soups, serve as a side dish, or use as a base for stir-fried vegetables during the week.
  • Winter squash can also be baked ahead and used to produce several delicious dishes. Add cubes of baked winter squash to your favorite vegetable soup recipe. Dress cubes of winter squash with olive oil, tamari, ginger and pumpkin seeds. Top puréed cooked winter squash with cinnamon and maple syrup.
  • Make up a snack mix of dried apricots, prunes and almonds.

To learn more about the health benefits of this important nutrient, click fiber.

For some exceptional recipes featuring these fiber-rich members of the World’s Healthiest Foods, click on the Recipe Assistant, select the food you wish a recipe for from the healthy foods list, and click on the Submit button. A list containing links to all the World's Healthiest Foods' recipes containing the food selected will appear immediately below.

Research Summary

Addressing delegates at the CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition 16th Annual Food Industry Conference, which was held as part of Australian Gastroenterology Week in Adelaide this October, Dr McIntosh said researchers have identified some new dietary fibers, including a specific oligosaccharide that behaves like an antibiotic.

Dr McIntosh explained that while conventional antibiotics kill bacteria, these mannan oligosaccharides perform the same function by absorbing gastrointestional pathogens. Unlike conventional antibiotics, which indiscriminately destroy both friendly and pathogenic bacteria in the gut, thus often causing diarrhea, and in women, vaginal yeast infections, oligosaccharides absorb only certain pathogens and have even been successfully used to treat digestive disorders such as diarrhea.

Dr McIntosh said as our understanding of the health benefits of fiber evolve, scientists should seek to have food labeling standards improved to provide more reliable measurements of fiber to assist consumers in making healthful choices. A recent US survey showed that fiber is one of the top three most sought after health-related items in foods.

"If people are taking the trouble to seek out fiber,” said McIntosh, “ it's important that they are getting the right type and amount of fiber for the desired health benefit." For example, consumers have been bewildered by considerable debate about the benefits of fiber that has been driven by recent controversial research findings. One study, which involved nearly 90,000 women, found no evidence that dietary fiber reduced the risk of colorectal cancer or polyp recurrence.

"However,” said Dr. McIntosh, “in this case, the study participants may not have been eating the type of fiber that could confer protection. It appears that cereal fibers may be the optimal in lowering risk of colon cancer. Consumption of wholegrain cereals has been shown to be particularly promising in risk reduction.”

In the US, foods must contain at least 50% of the whole cereal grain to be listed as a 'wholegrain' food. "This stops manufacturers from listing wholegrain in a product's ingredient list when, for example it may have included a high percentage of pure cellulose fiber, which serves no other purpose than increasing fecal bulk," said Dr McIntosh.

"People have a good awareness of the health benefits of fibre in their diet," he said. "The challenge now is to encourage a better understanding of what types of fiber are necessary for the different types of health benefits achievable."

Reference: Press Release CSIRO Health Science and Nutrition Australia

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