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raisin bran cereal Although it is indigestible, fiber is necessary for maintaining good health and preventing disease.  Fiber is known to prevent constipation and reduce the risk of colon cancer; fiber helps to control weight and may also help lower cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.  It is estimated that the typical American diet contains about 12 grams of fiber daily; nutritionists suggest about twice that — a total daily consumption of between 20 and 35 grams.  While it is possible to take fiber supplements, it is recommended that fiber be taken in smaller doses throughout the day, preferably through diet.  Fiber pills and supplements don't have the same nutrients and substances found in high-fiber foods.

You can find fiber in fruit, dried beans, peas, and other legumes, as well as in vegetables, cereals, grains, nuts, and seeds.  It is important that these foods are unrefined because the outer layer of grain, which contains the most fiber, is removed during the refining process.  Brown rice and whole-wheat bread, for example, contain more fiber than their refined cousins, white rice and white bread.  When in doubt, apply this general rule of thumb:  brown foods generally haven't been refined and therefore, contain more fiber.

There are two categories of fiber:  soluble and insoluble.  Soluble fibers like pectin, which can be found in fruits, legumes, vegetables, and nuts; carrageenan, which can be found in seaweed and algae; and mucilage, which can be found in plant seeds and secretions, all dissolve and water and become sticky.  Insoluble fiber like cellulose and linin, both of which can be found in bran, whole grains, and vegetables, and the skins of fruits, does not dissolve.

Most people can get the right amount of fiber they need through a well-balanced diet.  If fiber is increased, it should be done gradually.  Increasing fiber too quickly can cause things like gas, bloating, and digestive problems.  Too much fiber can also cause iron, zinc, and other mineral deficiencies.  However, this is not likely to occur in a diet with 35 grams or less of daily dietary fiber.

You can learn more about the nutritional value of fiber by reading this Fiber resource, published by the United States Department of Agriculture and this Dietary Fiber article, published by the United States National Library of Medicine.

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Dietary Fiber Guide

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