In all the recent health news, it's like we forgot all about the things that used to keep us up at night: Breast cancer, and other slow and silent scourges that one had our full attention. But unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, what will keep us healthy now, today, will still keep us healthy as the weeks and months go by. One of those things, that can help us in the here and now, and in the years to come, is fiber. (This is your cue to prepare a bowl of oatmeal.)

Let's back up for a second and review: Fiber is found in plants, not animals. It's the fibrous tissue in the peel of the apple, the stalk of the asparagus, or the membranes of the clementine, and it's the strong sturdy cells that keep a plant growing, gives the zucchini its shape, and allows plants to literally shoot up and reach for the sunlight from its seed in the earth. Animals contain no fiber: We have skeletons, muscles, tendons and ligaments to stand up and move. Plants have all the fiber, as do beans, oats, and seeds. Fiber is Mother Nature's powerful stick and she yields it to create forests from seeds since it is what gives trees their tensile strength. And when we eat it, good things happen to our health.

Fiber Does More Than Help us go to the Bathroom; It Keeps Blood Sugar in Check

FIber is essential in our bodies, because it slows the movement of food through the gut, allowing your body to reap the full benefits of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and energy that the apple or asparagus gives us. It also keeps your blood sugar from spiking and your insulin levels steady. That means your body never has the chance to send the signal: Incoming calories! Store these extra ones as fat! Insulin is the caller in that equation. Fiber keeps insulin calm and quiet. So chalk one up for fiber. The more you eat (as a ratio of your total dietary intake) the slimmer you're likely to be.

Healthy oatmeal, strawberry bowl in woman's hands
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Diets High in Fiber Appear to Lower Breast Cancer Risk by 8 Percent

People have been "adding" fiber to diets for decades. Those not-so-good overly dry bran muffins, the hard-to-swallow twig-like cereals, and the well-known "old folks" fiber drinks that are supposed to keep you regular have given fiber a bad name. In fact, fiber is in every single fruit and vegetable you eat, and it is easy to get if you fill your plate with healthy salads, greens, and anything you could theoretically grow in your own garden.  And now a new study shows that there's yet another reason to love fiber: It reduces your lifetime risk of Breast Cancer in both pre- and post-menopausal women.

While this study only looked at breast cancer, fiber has also been linked to maintaining a healthy weight, and found to lower other cancer risks as well.

Research published in the peer-reviewed American Cancer Society journal CANCER shows women who consumed high-fiber diets saw an 8 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer. It’s the first review of its kind.

This was a review study that looked at 20 observational studies where they could track both diet and breast cancer incidence, and found that all in all, those with the highest fiber intake reduced their risk 8 percent. "Soluble fiber" is associated with lower risks of breast cancer,  and higher total fiber intake was associated with a lower risk in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women," according to the study's author, Maryam Farvid, Ph.D., of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Foods with soluble fiber include Dried beans, oats, oat bran, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, apples, strawberries, peas, and potatoes.

"Our study contributes to the evidence that lifestyle factors, such as modifiable dietary practices, may affect breast cancer risk," said Dr. Farvid. "Our findings provide research evidence supporting the American Cancer Society dietary guidelines, emphasizing the importance of a diet rich in fiber, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains."

Importantly, the findings point to eating more fiber to lower cancer risk

"A high intake of total fiber also was found to be significantly associated with a decreased risk in both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancers," lead researcher, Farvid told U.S. News & World Report.

"With the risk for breast cancer being as significant as it is, we are always looking for ways in which we can decrease a woman's risk for developing this disease," said Dr. Lauren Cassell, chief of breast surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

So where do you get your fiber? Beans, Oats, Vegetables and Fruits

The best sources of soluble fiber are oats, dried beans and some fruits and vegetables. Experts recommend a total dietary fiber intake of 25 to 30 grams per day with about one-fourth, about 6 to 8 grams per day, from soluble fiber.

Fiber may be effective in lowering breast cancer risk by reducing estrogen levels through balancing insulin circulation. The chain reaction goes something like this: Rises in insulin are linked to body fat storage. Fat cells produce estrogen. Estrogen is linked to breast cancer.

The study didn’t specify which sources of fiber were most beneficial—if at all—in reducing the risk. "The reduction in risk appears to be similar for intake of all sources of fiber," Farvid's group said.

According to the researchers, whole grains and cereals make up nearly half (45%) of all fiber intake for women in the U.S., with vegetables coming in second (23%), followed but fruits, nuts, beans, and seeds.

Sources of Soluble and Insoluble Fiber


Sources of fiber

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both are a part of a healthy diet that can help lower your cancer risk, Erma Levy, a research dietitian in Behavioral Science at MD Anderson Cancer Center, explains. Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion, slowing the digestive process. Foods high in soluble fiber include:

  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peas
  • Avocado
  • Oranges
  • Brussels sprouts
Insoluble fiber helps food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. Foods high in Insoluble fiber include:
  • Apples
  • Whole grains
  • Wheat bran

Juice is not a good source of fiber since the fiber is often removed in the juicing process. “Ideally, you want fiber to come from whole food sources, not supplements or juices,” Levy says. Foods with at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving are considered good sources of fiber. And foods with at least 5 grams or more per serving of fiber are considered excellent sources of fiber.

About that oatmeal: One cup of oatmeal cooked in water has 170 calories, 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat and 4 grams of fiber, or 16 percent of the daily value for fiber. Most of us eat closer to a cup and a half or two cups in a bowl, so you're one-thrid of the way there.


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