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Psyllium Fiber Lowers Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Levels Naturally
Now that the high-protein, low-carb diet craze has come and gone, Americans are starting to eat a little more sensibly. We're consuming more fruits and vegetables, and whole grain breads and cereals are back on the menu.
That's good news, since plant foods are not only loaded with vitamins and minerals; they're also packed with disease-fighting compounds known as polyphenols. Unlike meat and dairy products, most plant foods are also high in fiber, a dietary component that is vital to good health.
According to Pat Baird, R.D., vice chair for the National Fiber Council and author of "Be Good to Your Gut," "In terms of dietary trends, I think it's safe to say that fiber is finally making a comeback."
Although fiber is gradually finding its way back into the American diet, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
"Adults need about 32 grams of fiber a day for good health, but the reality is that most aren't getting nearly that much," noted Baird. "The average American consumes only about 10 to 15 grams a day."
While eating a balanced, plant-based diet is one of the best ways to boost fiber consumption, it's not always easy for folks on the go. For individuals in search of an inexpensive and convenient fiber source, a product called psyllium is worth considering.
Psyllium fiber is derived from the husk of a shrub-like herb that is native to Asia and North Africa. In the United States, it's sold as a nutritional supplement at supermarkets and health food stores in various forms, including tablets, capsules, and water-soluble crystals.
Psyllium is also the primary ingredient in several over-the-counter products, including Metamucil and Fiberall. Although psyllium has long been used to alleviate constipation, this unique source of fiber does more than just promote good bowel health.
Several scientific studies have shown that consuming a low-fat diet and just 10.2 grams of psyllium daily can reduce the risk of heart disease by significantly lowering cholesterol levels.
In a study designed to determine the effects of psyllium consumption on cholesterol and blood sugar levels, researchers at the University of Kentucky gave male volunteers either 5.1 grams of psyllium or placebo twice daily for a period of eight weeks. Each of the men participating in the study had been diagnosed with diabetes and mild to moderately elevated cholesterol levels.
At the end of the two-month study, the researchers found that compared to the men taking placebo, total blood cholesterol levels among those receiving psyllium were 8.9 percent lower.
The researchers also reported significant improvements in blood sugar levels among the male volunteers in the psyllium group. After-lunch blood sugar levels were 19.2 percent lower than those receiving the placebo.
In addition to its positive effects on cholesterol and glucose, psyllium is also beneficial in terms of weight management. Several studies suggest that the soluble fiber in psyllium and other foods, including oats, peas, and many types of fruit, helps reduce hunger and curtail overeating by contributing to a sensation of fullness.
"Soluble fiber absorbs water like a sponge, and it actually swells in the stomach," explained Baird. "This causes a delay in gastric emptying, and makes you feel fuller longer."
Adding psyllium to your diet will likely improve your health, but it's best to start with a low dose and gradually increase it. Drastic increases in fiber intake, regardless of the source, can lead to intestinal bloating, cramping, and excessive gas production. Drinking plenty of water can reduce the likelihood of unpleasant side effects.
While psyllium is an excellent source of soluble fiber, it offers less in the way of insoluble fiber, which is equally important for good health. Insoluble fiber is found in a number of nutritious foods, including whole grains, nuts and seeds, and vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, and celery. Ideally, both soluble and insoluble fiber should contribute to the recommended daily intake of 32 grams.
"It's easy to work more fiber into your daily diet when you eat a high-fiber food at every meal and snack," said Baird. "Choose a handful of nuts instead of chips; a whole grain bagel instead of a donut; and popcorn instead of pretzels."
If you still need a little help boosting your fiber intake, or if you're searching for ways to lower your cholesterol and blood sugar levels, supplementing your diet with psyllium is a good place to start.
Rallie McAllister, M.D., M.P.H., is a family physician in Kingsport, Tenn., and author of "Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim." Her Web site is http://www.rallieonhealth.com. To find out more about Rallie McAllister, M.D., and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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