Blood Pressure and Fiber

High blood pressure has many facets to its development; the major ones are excess weight, excess salt, and stress.

However, there are secondary factors that don’t necessarily cause high blood pressure but clearly contribute to its development and make it worse once it is established.

Inadequate dietary fiber consistently shows up as a complicating factor. Indeed, in some studies, simply increasing dietary fiber to over 30 grams reduced blood pressure by a few percent.

Our bodies produce many materials that are eliminated in urine, or by the gallbladder through the intestine itself. Fiber both moves food along the digestive tract and selectively binds waste matter and removes them from the system.

It is absolutely essential that the digestive system should have available adequate dietary fiber to bind up these materials and flush them from the body.

Generally, this means that each day a person weighing 120 pounds should get 25 grams of dietary fiber, and a person weighing 200 pounds should get 35 grams. There are about five or six types of fiber, all of which have properties we require.

Insoluble or hard fiber, the type found in wheat bran, is the “water carrier” that helps to produce regularity. It produces stool consistency and regularity.

As a water carrier, this fiber increases stool bulk and gives it consistency while maintaining softness. Soft but firm stools are important to regularity and the prevention of a number of intestinal problems like appendicitis, diverticulosis, and hemorrhoids.

The added water passing through the intestinal tract helps to dissolve and remove unwanted and sometimes toxic materials. This important function helps to reduce the risk of cancer and other illness.

Hard fiber is found in all plant food, but mostly in the high-fiber cereals and grains, as well as most vegetables, beans, and tubers such as potatoes.

These foods are essential for adequate fiber and the results are obvious whenever a person includes them in their diet. In contrast to hard fiber, the soluble forms of fiber, such as pectin, gums, saponins, and others, are the best at selective absorption.

For example, pectin helps to reduce cholesterol by binding the bile acids produced by our liver from cholesterol and removing them in our stools. Oat bran also removes these materials even better, and guar gum better yet.

It also binds the dietary cholesterol and fat and helps to carry them through the system. In nutrition, fiber’s teammate is water. Water is another nutrient that rarely, if ever, is taken in excess.

Because fiber is the plant material that binds water, it can bind you up if you don’t get enough water. In the presence of water, fiber makes your stools soft and consistent; in the absence of water, it can make them dry and hard.

The relationship between water and fiber is made clearer by this analogy. Milk contains less water than green peas. The reason you don’t eat milk with a fork and drink your peas is because peas have fiber, which gives them their shape and holds the water.

You want fiber to do exactly that in your digestive system—give stools consistency without excess firmness. Fiber cannot perform its cleansing action without water, but our requirement for water extends far beyond that.

Indeed, next to air itself, it is the most important of all nutrients. In arthritis, it is especially important for the elimination of waste materials that, in the opinion of some experts, can cause flareups.

Strive for eight glasses of water daily. Although it is best consumed as pure water, it is okay in other beverages as well. People with high blood pressure should make drinking water a habit, at least four glasses daily.

The reason is simply to help facilitate the elimination of sodium. You make the kidneys’ work easier. In addition to drinking more water, you should learn how much sodium is in your water supply.

If you live in a hard-water area and have a chemical water softener, you should not drink or cook with the softened water because those softeners remove calcium salts and replace them with sodium.

If that is your situation, use bottled water for drinking and cooking. Bottled water, especially mineral water, is excellent. Just read the label to be sure it contains very little sodium. Usually bottled water contains less than 5 milligrams of sodium per 8-ounce glass.

Another option is to use a water purifier that uses reverse osmosis to distill water. These systems are costly, but they produce soft, pure water that is excellent for drinking and cooking.

An easy way to get a good start on the fiber you need is to begin each day with high-fiber cereal. Many excellent cereals are available: Fiber One, All-Bran, Bran Buds, bran flakes, corn bran, oat bran, oatmeal, and barley, to name a few. Add unprocessed bran to pancakes or waffles.

Eat fruit on cereal, in pancakes, or plain; eat fruit, vegetables, grains, and tubers at each meal. As your fiber intake improves, you’ll become more regular. High-fiber snacks are excellent all day, but drink lots of water.

Water increases the value of fiber. Selecting high-fiber cereals for a low-sodium diet plan is difficult. You must read the nutritional table and see how much sodium is provided per serving. If it is 20 milligrams or less, it’s okay. If it is over 75 milligrams, be sure it provides at least 10 grams of fiber; if not, it’s not worth eating.

One cereal that makes the grade is shredded wheat and bran, which is sold by several companies. It provides 8 grams of fiber with no sodium! I’m always asked, “How do I know I’m getting enough fiber?”

My answer is: “You should have an easy bowel movement every twenty-four hours. The stools should be well formed, their color should be light brown, and preferably about 10 percent will float.” If your stools don’t fit that profile, start using a good fiber supplement.

Metamucil is the standard against which I measure all fiber supplements. It is safe and consistent from one batch to the next. Select the version that is not artificially sweetened; it comes unflavored and orange flavor, either of which is fine.

You can take as much Metamucil as you desire. Indeed, it is probably acceptable to take up to six or more tablespoon servings daily. This has been done in many clinical tests. Drugstores have a wide selection of fiber supplements besides Metamucil.

Most of them are made from psyllium seeds, which are mostly mucilage, a type of fiber. They don’t contain the seed matrix, are gentle, and also work well. Mix about one or two heaping tea-spoonfuls or one tablespoon with water and drink thirty minutes before a meal.

Make sure the one you choose is only a fiber supplement and does not contain any laxative. Some fiber products contain senna leaf, an intestinal stimulant. Read the ingredients list carefully and avoid anything with senna.

Some health food stores sell plant gums, the most common being guar gum, which is also the most effective fiber for lowering cholesterol. However, guar gum should be used carefully because too much will “gum up” the works, actually causing a blockage.