Of all the changes we have wreaked on traditional diets over the last hundred years, our drastic reduction in fiber intake might very well be the most significant. Not only have we turned away from fiber-rich plant foods, but the plant foods we do eat are often “refined” to remove their natural fiber, leaving us with bland, malleable white bread, white rice, and white pasta. We even refine our vegetables, removing the nutritious peels from carrots and cucumbers, and foregoing fresh tomatoes for bottled tomato sauce (made without tomato skins and seeds) ladled over white pasta.
What is fiber anyways? And why is it so important? Simply put, fiber is the stuff in plant food we can’t digest. Since it isn’t digested, it isn’t absorbed. Instead, it acts as a broom, sweeping out the intestines; feeds the “friendly,” probiotic bacteria in the gut; and helps regulate how we absorb nutrients. All that might sound relatively abstract. To put it in clearer terms, fiber lowers the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease; helps keeps us regular; supports the immune system; and yes, plays a major role in weight loss as well.
Fiber in Food: Vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and mushrooms are all good sources of fiber. I’m not going to catalog exactly which foods are rich in exactly how much fiber because that would take up too much space. Besides, reading labels should tell you all you need to know.
One thing to note when you’re reading labels, however, is that fiber contributes to a food’s official calorie count – even though we don’t absorb those calories. To get a better sense of the useable calories in a food, take the number of grams of fiber and multiply by four. That’s the number of calories you can subtract from the calorie count on the label.
Types of Fiber: There are two major types of fiber: soluble, which dissolves in water to form a gel; and insoluble, which does not dissolve. Most fiber-rich foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, although in varying proportions. Vegetables, fruit skins, seeds, and whole wheat are all relatively high in insoluble fiber. Fruits, legumes, and oats are all good sources of soluble fiber.
While all fiber is beneficial, soluble fiber generally has more to offer, especially as a supplement. First, it has that ability dissolve in water, forming that thick, viscous gel. This gel can then bind to toxins – and by “toxins” here, I mean anything the body is trying to get rid of, including excess hormones and cholesterol – to help escort them out of the body. The gel also slows the rate at which foods leave the stomach, hit the small intestine, and are absorbed into the bloodstream. This ultimately affects our blood sugar, our appetite, and how fattening a meal is.
Beyond all this, soluble fiber feeds the beneficial, probiotic bacteria that live in the large intestine. And while it’s beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the 101 things the friendly bacteria do for us, suffice it to say they lower our cancer risk, keep the immune system up and running, help normalize digestion, and many, many other things.
Glucomannan: A Special Kind of Fiber. Taking fiber pills is no substitute for seeking out fiber-rich foods. That being said, if you are looking to pills, Glucomannan, from the Konjac plant, truly is a special kind of fiber. Glucomannan absorbs more water, gram for gram, than other kinds of soluble fiber, and it forms a thicker, more viscous gel. In other words, you need less Glucomannan to get the same effect. This makes Glucomannan more practical to take as a supplement, in a few easy-to-swallow capsules, compared to other kinds of fiber you’d have to take by the spoonful.
Glucomannan: Regulating Blood Sugar. While fiber helps keep things moving along in the lower GI, it slows things down in the upper GI, especially in terms of how long it takes food to move out of the stomach and into the small intestine. The longer it takes food to leave the stomach and get into the small intestine, the more gradually it raises our blood sugar.
There’s some research here to support these claims. There’s also our nurse, Grace, and her experience with Glucomannan. Grace is diabetic, and is always monitoring her blood sugar. She uses a Glucomannan-based combo called WellBetX before meals. “If I take it before my meal,” she says, “I can have a 40-50 count difference in my blood sugar.”
Glucomannan: Cholesterol and Elevated Blood Lipids: A lot of people come in asking me what to do about high cholesterol, and fiber is always one of the first things I mention. It’s not that there aren’t other, more powerful options for getting your numbers down. There are. But I like to recommend fiber because it not only lowers cholesterol, but has all sorts of side benefits as well.
Once again, Glucomannan is an especially good type of fiber here, and especially when taken before starchy or sugary meals.
Glucomannan: Weight Loss/Weight Management: The research on fiber and weight management really is impressive, with dozens if not hundreds of studies linking increased dietary fiber with better weight control. Not only do we have all sorts of epidemiological data, but there have also been quite a few double-blind clinical trials as well, showing that fiber supplements, as part of a healthy diet-and-exercise program, consistently help people lose weight, and keep the weight off.
When it comes to supplements, Glucomannan really shines. In the research I’ve seen, people taking Glucomannan average 2-4 pounds a month more weight loss versus those taking a placebo. Glucomannan is definitely one of the most effective supplements to help people control weight, as part of a complete program including diet and exercise.
What really impressed me, however, were the trials I saw when people took Glucomannan and then were not given any instructions to diet or exercise. Even here, the people taking the fiber supplements averaged 2-4 pounds weight loss per month, compared to a placebo group that generally didn’t lose any weight, or occasionally even gained some. To put it another way, the people taking Glucomannan lost those pounds without even trying. Other research has shown that, when people try to diet, Glucomannan helps them stick to it. Neat stuff!
Dosing: A lot of different dosing regimens were used in the dozens of clinical trials. I believe that a good dose is one gram (usually two capsules) taken before each meal, with a large glass of water.
 Of course this is all a matter of opinion, but I think that removing the fiber from our diets has done more to hurt us than pesticide residues, partially hydrogenated oils, and livestock fed on industrial diets. Of course the environmental consequences of pesticide use may well outstrip the dietary ones…