The secret heart-healthy, immune-boosting, hormone-balancing ingredient

flax seed Originally published in the Kingston Whig-Standard on Saturday May 11 2013

Are you reading this article over a nice, big bowl of bran cereal? Good for you for trying to get your fibre in, but let me tell you a few things that might change your approach to adding fibre to your diet.

Fibre intake is notorious for producing bowel regularity, but there is so much more to fibre than that. There is an entire world of fibres out there, and there are many different reasons to eat a variety of them. Let me take you on a tour of the fibre world and show you some of the interesting benefits, I promise this will be a bit more exciting than bran flakes.

1. Fibre for a healthy heart: indigestible fibre. This is why we are told to eat bran or oatmeal. What I recommend instead is eating beans, fruits and vegetables. Imagine a spinach salad with dried fruit, almonds and onions, drizzled in olive oil. That’s a lot more flavourful, and it gives you multiple benefits: the indigestible fibre in the fruit, leaves and nuts, the antioxidants and polyphenols in the fruits seeds and nuts, the cholesterol-lowering, blood pressure reducing power of olive oil and the cholesterol-lowering action of raw onion. Or how about some tasty salsa layered with a bean dip? The antioxidant, bone-protecting power of lycopene, fibre and iron in the beans and those cholesterol-lowering onions and garlic again.

2. Fibre for treating menopause, PMS and benign prostatic hyperplasia: flax. Flaxseeds are high in molecules that act as phytoestrogens. These phytoestrogens weakly stimulate estrogen receptors on our cells. If you have too much estrogen, phytoestrogens reduce the strength of the estrogen signal. If you have too little estrogen, they increase the strength. For the men in the crowd, difficulty with urination, pain with urination and getting up to pee in the night are all signs of benign prostatic hyperplasia — when your prostate gland has overgrown. Phytoestrogens reduce levels of testosterone, which decreases the prostate’s tendency to get too big.

3. Fibre for soothing heartburn: mucilaginous fibre. Slippery elm, marshmallow and de-glycerated licorice all produce a gel when combined with water. When swallowed, this gel coats the esophagus, protecting it from the ravages of stomach acid. This gels can also be used for inflammatory bowel disease and ulcers. Deglycerated licorice tabs can even soothe those pesky canker sores that sometimes appear on lips, cheeks and gums.

4. Fibre for boosting the immune system: arabinogalactan. This amazing fibre is derived from larch. It promotes the growth of good bacteria and lowers cholesterol, but what is really interesting about it is that it increases the immune system’s ability to fend off bacteria. It is also very safe, which makes it ideal for children, and for longterm use in adults. It can be used for acute ear infection and for prevention of urinary tract infection.

5. Fibre for weight management: all types. Various types of fibre have been studied for their impact on different aspects of weight management. They seem to modulate the blood sugar impact of foods, increase the feeling of fullness, decrease energy intake and decrease the feeling of hunger. A popular brand name fibre for weight loss is PGX. I do not recommend it. It causes a lot of stomach upset and some people experience very urgent bowel movements.

See? There is a cornucopia of fibre out there to be using to accomplish many different health goals. It is inexpensive, and you generally get multiple benefits from eating it.

A word to the wise: getting too much indigestible fibre can not only treat but can also cause constipation. For some, it is necessary to increase fibre intake gradually.

Originally published in the Kingston Whig-Standard on Saturday May 11 2013