What is bran?

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What is bran? You hear so much about fiber and bran lately. My grandmother used to tell us to eat roughage. Why? Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away?

Bran is the brown, outer covering of cereal grains such as wheat, rye, oats, barley, corn, and rice. The body does not digest it as we lack the enzymes needed to break down this complex carbohydrate. As it goes through your gastrointestinal system, it absorbs water and swells. Any food that is undigested is excreted in the stool, as are other waste products.

Research has studied the relationship between high fiber diets and lowering the incidence of colon cancer and diverticulosis. Also, researchers are looking at high fiber diets for lowering the cholesterol level in the blood and managing diabetes. Because fiber stimulates the intestinal peristalsis (movement), food travels through the intestine faster.

There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber is effective at increasing stool size and bulk and helps reduce constipation and hemorrhoids. Insoluble fiber includes wheat bran, whole cereal grains, and vegetables. Researchers have suggested that insoluble fibers may reduce colon cancer and diverticulosis. On the other hand, soluble fiber forms a gelatin-like substance in the intestines and increases the water content in the stool. Soluble fiber is found in citrus fruit, legumes (dried beans and peas), oats, barley and “gums” which are found in oatmeal and dried beans. Researchers have suggested that soluble fiber decreases blood cholesterol and results in a lower blood sugar after meals for diabetics. Perhaps you have seen all the oat bran advertising in the media and your grocery store.

Foods that are high in fiber include fresh fruits including edible peelings; raw vegetables; whole cereal grains; legumes (peanuts and groundnuts); dried beans, dried peas. So yes, grandmother was right when she said an apple a day is good for you if you eat the peel.

If your diet is currently low in these foods, start including one or two high fiber foods daily. Then, every three or four days, add another high fiber food, up to four high fiber foods per day. Also, start adding bran to your daily meal plan. Start slowly since your intestines aren’t used to much movement. Add one tablespoon of bran per day during week one. Each week following add another tablespoon of bran until you are eating four tablespoons of bran per day. You don’t have to buy raw bran since processed bran found in packaged cereals contain about 90% of the fiber found in unprocessed bran. Try sprinkling the bran on your favorite hot or cold cereal in the morning.

Remember to consult your doctor if you have any discomfort from eating a high fiber diet. Persons with colitis should stay on a low fiber diet.