Derrick W. Spell, MD FACP
The Bite-Sized Blog on Toilet Paper
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has spread to more than 100 countries over the last several weeks. The World Health Organization categorized this outbreak as a pandemic on March 11th. On the 13th, President Trump declared a national emergency. Concerts, sporting events and schools have been cancelled worldwide. Yet, this is not a blog about COVID-19!
Many Americans responded to these actions by stocking up on basic supplies like bread and toilet paper. Nationwide, most stores were sold out of toilet paper within a matter of hours. I understand that fear and panic can cause strange behavior, but hoarding of toilet paper? Some mental health experts believe that extra quantities of essentials provide some level of comfort. I also think there is another option to consider. Instead of buying more toilet paper, you could eat in a way so that you use less of it!
Stop and think about this for a moment! When your stools are soft and formed, you don’t need a lot of toilet paper. These proper bowel movements are easily accomplished by staying adequately hydrated and eating nutritious foods. You may ask, “How does that work?” The answer is simple – fiber! Dietary fiber increases the bulk of your stool. This helps keep your bowel movements soft and regular! (I know this topic is not glamorous. But, just like the children’s book, Everyone Poops!)
Adequate fiber intake has additional health benefits. Our body needs fiber to function properly. High-fiber diets have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. Fiber consumption facilitates successful weight management by promoting satiety and reducing cravings. High-fiber diets also lower the chances of developing illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Since fiber can help us in so many ways (including less toilet paper!), let’s learn more about it!
Fiber is a natural part of food that cannot be broken down by the intestinal tract. Unlike other carbohydrates, our body lacks the enzymes to properly break down fiber. As a result, fiber is not absorbed. There are two kinds of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Both forms of fiber are essential for successful weight management because they promote satiety and reduce cravings.
Soluble fiber, also known as sticky fiber, dissolves in water and turns to gel during digestion. This helps to slow down digestion, which leads to more level absorption of food and improved blood glucose control. Soluble fiber also improves cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease. Good sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, beans and fruit. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and passes through our digestive system generally intact. Previously referred to as roughage, insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stools, so you stay regular. Good sources of insoluble fiber include vegetables and whole grains.
Most wholesome foods contain both forms of fiber. As a rule, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the more fiber it has. Most plant-based foods (vegetables, beans, whole grains, fruit and nuts) are full of fiber. On the other hand, refined carbohydrates (like white breads, rice and pastas) usually have no fiber. (The typical refining of grain removes the bran layer, which is the natural fiber source of grain.) Meats and dairy products also have no fiber!
There are many practical ways to increase your daily fiber intake. Replace white breads and pasta with whole grain products. Fill up on oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. Enjoy fruit and nuts as a snack or dessert. Include vegetables with your meals as often as possible, especially the cruciferous vegetables! (Remember, these include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and the green leafy vegetables.) Load up on legumes by eating more beans, lentils and peas. Last but not least, minimize your consumption of meats and dairy products as much as possible.
Adequate fiber intake is necessary for a healthy lifestyle. High-fiber diets are especially important for proper bowel health. When you eat enough fiber, bowel movements are softer and easier to pass. So, make sure you eat enough fruits and veggies! You will have cleaner bathroom experiences, thus, less toilet paper!