Fiber, health and truth from the 1800s

My Grandma Tillie, born in 1893, was on to something. Her son, my dad, made fun of his mom. He laughed at her admonitions to eat fiber-filled whole grains, saying, "Tillie was always telling us to eat brown bread for our bowels."

My dad was a scientist, but in the science of fiber consumption, Grandma was the authority.'s Nancy Ferrari agrees with Grandma Tillie. She quotes Dr. Harvard Med School's Frank Hu, who says fiber diets help to prevent type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even support weight loss. Hu tells us to stick to foods with fiber, skip the pills.

Ferarri quotes a study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School: "Something as simple as aiming to eat 30 grams of fiber each day can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve your body's response to insulin."

By the way, study participants did not diet, but simply added an average of 19 fiber grams. With the extra fiber, they lost four to six pounds, a loss they maintained when checked a year later.

Here are some figures from long-term studies of fiber consumption, cited by T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard:

40 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.

Diets low in fiber and high in sweets and white flour more than doubled the risk of type 2 diabetes. But diets high in cereal fiber were linked to a lower risk.

A long-term study of males with diverticulitis, a common disorder in Western society, showed a 40% lower risk among those who ate diets rich in dietary fiber.

Fiber in one's diet relieved and prevented constipation, the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the United States.

Getting the right amount

Exactly how much do women and men need? Lucia Pattrito, of Michigan State University Extension says women age 50 and under need about 25 grams of fiber a day while those over 50 should eat about 21 grams each day. For men, it's 38 grams for those up to 50 and 30 grams over age 50.

Fiber falls into two categories, soluble and insoluble. Eat both, here's why.

Soluble fiber is found in dry beans, peas, lentils, oats, fruits and some vegetables like carrots and squash. Eating foods with soluble fiber can help in reducing blood cholesterol levels, heart disease, lowering blood sugar levels and managing diabetes.

Insoluble fiber is found in foods like wheat bran, whole grains and all vegetables and fruits. It's often called "roughage" or "bulk" because it helps keep bowels running smoothly, preventing flare-ups of constipation and hemorrhoids.

Ok, so how does all this fiber talk translate into everyday eating? University of California, San Francisco's site,, gets down to specifics:

Consume at least one serving of whole grain in every meal.

Sprinkle oat or wheat germ over salad, soup, breakfast cereals and yogurt.

Use whole-wheat flour for cooking and baking.

Choose 100% whole grain bread.

Choose cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber.

Keep whole-wheat crackers on hand for an easy snack.

Cook with brown rice instead of white.

Add kidney beans, garbanzos or other bean varieties to salads.

Substitute legumes for meat two to three times per week in chili and soups.

Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Have fresh fruit for dessert.

Eat whole fruits instead of drinking juices.

Add chopped dried fruits to your baked cookies, muffins, pancakes or breads.

Grandma Tillie's advice could have helped my dad keep his weight down, as well as avoid coronary disease, which resulted in a triple bypass. Why is it so difficult for offspring to listen to their mothers?

Carrie Luger Slayback an award-winning teacher and champion marathoner, shares personal experience and careful research. Contact her at