May 2, 2018

What’s the Deal With Fiber?

Can I get it from meat?

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

Q:I saw an article on the Internet about muscle fiber and the quality of meat. Can I get the fiber I need from meat, or do I still need to eat vegetables? What’s the deal with fiber, anyway?

A:The bundles of cells in muscles are called muscle fibers, but dietary fiber—also known as roughage or bulk—refers to the health-promoting edible parts of plants that our bodies can’t digest or absorb. Instead, they are processed by the bacteria in our gut to promote our health. Fiber is commonly classified as soluble, which means it dissolves in water. This type of fiber forms into a gel-like material. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. Most edible plants contain both types of fiber in varying degrees.

Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels, promotes healthy bacterial growth (probiotic), and aids in satiety (feeling of fullness with eating). It is readily fermented in the colon into gases and physiologically active by-products. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, and psyllium, among other foods.

Insoluble fiber has bulking effects by absorbing water, can be fermented in the large intestine, and aids defecation. Whole grains, wheat bran, nuts, beans, and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes are good sources of insoluble fiber.

Functional fibers are isolated fiber sources that may supplement the diet.

Eating fiber from diverse plant sources favors the growth of intestinal bacteria that produce chemicals that positively affect our health (short-chain fatty acids). While it is preferable to ingest fiber as it is found in food, fiber supplements may be used to increase the total dietary fiber when needed.

Ancient GreeceHippocratesBran prevents constipation
1877-1930sDr. J. H. KelloggConfirmation of positive effects of fiber in patients with constipation and colitis
1953Dr. Eben HipsleyThe phrase “dietary fiber” first used in a scientific article
1970sDrs. D. Burkitt and H. TrowellConcluded from work in Africa that processed, low-fiber foods in Western diets lead to more heart disease and cancer

The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men (25 percent soluble), but some populations with few chronic degenerative diseases ingest up to 100 grams per day. On average, those who live in North America, like many people around the world, ingest about 15 grams per day and can benefit by gradually increasing intake to at least the recommended levels, even up to 40-60 grams per day. Increasing too fast, however, may cause bloating and flatulence. Interestingly, overweight people lose about as much weight just by eating a fiber-rich diet as they do on complicated diets, despite consuming slightly more calories in the process.

There is no dietary fiber in meat, and meat eating cannot provide you with this very necessary food component. Eating a sufficient amount and variety of available fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and seeds according to your specific situation will provide you with what you need just as naturally and physiologically as God provided for our human parents in Eden.

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.