Recent research suggests that a fiber-rich diet may prevent and/or relieve various health conditions. Fiber is not a panacea, however. Dietary Fiber, a new Special Report from the American Council on Science and Health, summarizes current scientific knowledge about the health effects of this complex food component.
Dietary fiber is not one substance but a group of substances, all of which are found only in foods derived from plants. There are two major categories of fiber soluble and insoluble which are thought to have different effects on health. Dr. Ruth Kava, Director of Nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health, has stated that "Typically, the soluble fibers such as some pectins, gums and mucilages are the ones thought to be of some benefit in lowering blood cholesterol. The soluble fibers thus are valuable components of a cholesterol-lowering diet. The insoluble fibers such as some hemicelluloses, cellulose and lignin are more likely to be used in the treatment or prevention of constipation."
Our knowledge of the health effects of different types of fiber is increasing rapidly, but much remains to be learned about this extremely complex dietary component. Most authorities, therefore, do not recommend that people take supplements of individual fibers except upon the advice of a physician. As ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth Whelan notes, "It is much too early in the research on dietary fiber to advise consumers to take supplements of one type or another. We know that a diet rich in fiber-containing foods grains, fruits and vegetables is linked to a lower incidence of several diseases. The best advice at present is for people to be sure to include plenty of such foods in their diets."