DRHOOK- Fiber arts: How roughage keeps the trap clear

the handsome doctor John Hong of Charlottesville

"Beans, Beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot." Every kid has chanted this mantra on the playground at least once.

There are many types of beans: lima beans, kidney beans, navy beans, L.L. Bean, les-beans.

But I don't know too many people who eat beans. I don't eat many beans myself, although I love them when someone else makes them for me. And, personally, they don't give me gas. After writing this article, I'm going to start eating more beans because they're a great source of fiber.

Are you getting enough fiber in your diet?

Dietary fibers are a combination of insoluble and soluble fiber. For men, 30 grams of dietary fiber is a good high-fiber diet; 25g is adequate for women. 

Insoluble fiber is the outer layers of grains or plants that aren't digested in the intestines, so what goes in will come out– we hope. Examples of insoluble fiber are wheat bran (the outer layer of wheat grain), rye, other grains, and some fruits and vegetables. 

Soluble fiber is, well, soluble in water. Soluble fibers are mostly carbohydrates found in many fruits and vegetables, oats, barley, and legumes (like peas and beans– and the Creature from the Black Legume). 

If you're paying attention, every health channel and magazine encourages a high-fiber diet. It seems the most common reason to "plug" fiber is to combat constipation. Some high-fiber cereals provide more fiber than eating the box itself. 

Insoluble fibers are supposed to be good for treating gastric problems, while soluble fibers are supposed to help reduce the risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and strokes. But since there are so many other healthy things in high-fiber foods, there might be other contributing factors to these benefits.

Insoluble fibers are great to bulk up stools, and bulk is needed for the colon to get things rollin'. But on the flip side, they can help reduce diarrhea because they help the excess water to be absorbed. 

Insoluble fibers sometimes work to combat irritable bowel syndrome, but sometimes they can make the gas and cramps worse.

That's the thing about fiber. When people who are "fiber naïve" consume a lot of fiber, they can feel like the Goodyear blimp. "Anyone having a cookout? I can supply the natural gas." 

Sometimes it's good to build up the fiber– like sprinkling some wheat bran fiber on cereal or other foods. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were your bowels.

Another problem is hemorrhoids: they can be inflamed by feces that irritate the colon, and also straining will push them out more. So nicely formed stools that slide out easily will be friendly to those pesky bottom bothers.

Soluble fibers like psyllium, pectin, wheat dextran, and oat products have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes when compared to a diet rich in high-fiber foods. I've noticed there are a lot of soluble fiber products that can be mixed into coffee, water, soups, or other foods. 

In our fast-paced world, it seems many of us are struggling to eat fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and whole grains.

"Gee, I could have had a V-8!" seems to be the mantra of our culture. Times are rough– but that's not all bad: when the going gets rough, the roughage gets going.


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with a local practice. Email him with your questions.