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Your family needs to eat more fiber

Published July 21. 2012 10:55AM

When the topic turns to food, the objective is often simple: to cite studies (and possibly personal experience) to get you to consume less of something.

A column printed nearly 12 years ago, for example, urged you not to drink any soda. That's because a study using Massachusetts middle schoolers published in The Lancet, England's prestigious medical journal, found that the kids' odds of becoming obese increased with every daily serving of a sugar-sweetened drink.

In fact, those who consumed one more can of soda at the end of the observational study than at the beginning were 60 percent more likely to be obese than those who didn't even when the amount of exercise the kids got and the amount of food they ate were factored out of the equation.

(I couldn't share any personal experience in that article because I hadn't and haven't had anything other than an occasional diet soda since 1979.)

Just as likely, though, the opposite occurs. The column cites studies to encourage you to consume more of something, such as the handful penned in the past touting the benefits of drinking green tea.

A column from nearly 13 years ago, for instance, cited a study by researchers at the University of Kansas who discovered epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the most potent antioxidant in green tea, to be 100 times more effective than vitamin C and 25 times more effective than vitamin E at neutralizing free radicals. You want to eat and drink foods that neutralize these highly unstable and reactive groups of atoms that result from the body using oxygen or being exposed to radiation, pollution, poisons, bad food, or smoking. If you do not, free radicals damage your cells, age your body and increase your risk of disease.

The same column quoted doctors who found the ingestion of green tea lowered blood pressure, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels and increased HDL levels while reducing the cellular damage that leads to certain cancers.

(In this instance, I added anecdotal evidence: that by drinking an extra two or three cups a day the three or four times that winter when I felt a tickle in my throat normally a harbinger of a head cold for me I did not get sick once despite a rather serious cold-and-flu outbreak in my school.)

Today's column, just like the aforementioned, will cite studies. I'm hoping, however, that evidence creates more than one change in your household. In fact, I'm hoping for the domino effect to produce four.

I'm hoping you realize fiber (the non-digestible portion of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) is lacking not only in your diet but also your children's, and you change the way you and your family eats at home. If those two things happen, so will two more. You and your children will invariably eat less of the two foods largely responsible for so many Americans being overweight: highly processed grains and sugars.

A study of 559 teenagers performed by researchers at Georgia Health Sciences University and found at Medical News found 1 percent that's right, no more than 8 of the 559 consumed what the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 deems as an adequate daily fiber intake, 28 grams for females and 38 grams for males.

Overall, the girls in the study averaged just less than 10 grams of fiber per day; the boys, not quite 13.

Adults, by the way, don't fare much better. The USDA estimates that only 5 percent eat an adequate amount of fiber, with the national average being about 15 grams per day.

But the study performed on the teens did more than confirm the established fact that kids don't get sufficient fiber, it correlated that lack to increasing the likelihood of heart disease and diabetes developing. The study also established a link between a lack of fiber ingestion and an increase in waist circumference, a precursor of the previously mentioned diseases.

An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article placed online in late May showed equally disturbing statistics for adults who fail to eat enough fiber. In a study of more than 400,000 European adults covering nearly 13 years, those who consumed 28.5 grams or more of fiber a day had a 24 percent lower risk of dying from any cause when compared to those who consumed 16.4 grams or less per day.

In fact, each 10-gram-per-day increase reduced the risk of dying by 10 percent.

In the July issue of Environmental Nutrition, Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, Ph.D., R.D., offers seven ways to increase fiber intake: choose a high-fiber breakfast; make the switch to whole grains; give brown rice a try; eat the fruit instead of drinking the juice; reach for nuts, seeds, and dried fruit for snacks; put legumes on the menu several times a week; eat a fruit or veggie with each meal and snack.

While a list like this gives you a good general start to modifying your family's eating habits, next week's column will contain specifics.

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