Getting to Know Fiber: Citrucel and Oats

The Secret to a Long Life?
Would you like to live longer? Would you believe that eating more fiber might help you do just that?

A couple of weeks ago, results of a National Cancer Institute study were released. This study involved 400,000 members of the AARP who had filled out a survey about eating and lifestyle habits back in 1995 and 1996. The researchers followed these folks over nine years and were able to track when any of them died and from what causes. They divided the participants up based on how much fiber they ate: the lowest amount was 11 grams per day for women and 13 grams per day for men, and the highest amount was 26 grams per day for women and 29 grams per day for men (these were averages).

The findings? Those who ate the most fiber were 22% less likely to die during the study compared to those who ate the least amount of fiber. Eating more fiber lowered the risk of dying from heart disease and respiratory diseases by up to 56% in men and up to 59% in women. And for men, a high-fiber diet was linked to a lower risk of dying from cancer. Also of interest: Fiber seemed to have a more protective effect against dying when it came from grain foods as compared to fruits, vegetables, and beans. So here’s yet another reason to get more fiber in your diet.

Anyhow, back to fiber supplements. Last week[1] we looked at two popular psyllium-based fiber supplements. This week we’ll look at another type of supplement.

The name makes it sound like you might be ingesting paper or something synthetic when you eat this type of fiber. Actually, methylcellulose IS somewhat synthetic. It’s made from cellulose, which is a type of plant fiber, but it’s treated with methyl chloride, a chemical. Methylcellulose (MC) is used in a variety of products, including shampoo, toothpaste, ice cream, and even paint and wallpaper paste! It’s great at absorbing water, which is why it’s so widely used.

Citrucel. Citrucel is a popular fiber supplement on the market whose main ingredient is MC. MC expands in the intestines and forms a gel. It stimulates the intestines to move matter out, so it’s helpful in treating diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as softening and bulking up stools (for those who may be constipated). Citrucel is marketed as “Citrucel with SmartFiber” and comes in both powder (including both a regular orange and a sugar-free orange flavor) as well as in caplets.

One scoop of regular Citrucel powder has 60 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrate, and 2 grams of fiber, and is $17.99 for 30 ounces. One scoop of sugar-free Citrucel powder has 24 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, and is $17.99 for 16.9 ounces. Two Citrucel caplets have: 5 calories, 0 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fiber, and is $17.99 for a box of 100.

You don’t have to be a math whiz to figure out that you’d need to drink at least a few scoops of Citrucel or swallow many caplets to get a decent amount of fiber. The usual dose of the powder is one scoop up to three times daily and for the caplets, it’s two caplets up to six times daily — this is for laxation purposes, so the dose would be higher if you were to take Citrucel to merely boost your fiber intake.

Unlike Metamucil, Citrucel, while considered to be a soluble fiber, is half-synthetic. And while it can help with regularity, it doesn’t have much of an impact on lowering blood cholesterol. Nor is there data supporting that it helps to lower blood glucose. So if you’re hoping to reap more than one benefit from your fiber supplement, this may not be the one to choose.

We know that oats are good for us, yet many of us look upon this grain with some disdain (aren’t they fed to horses?). But oats have a lot going for them. They contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan. And many studies have shown that eating a bowl of oatmeal (which contains about 3 grams of soluble fiber) can lower cholesterol anywhere from 8% to 23%. Oats also contain antioxidants called avenanthramides, which prevent free radical damage to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, offering yet more protection against heart disease. Plus, research has shown that men who eat a bowl of whole oats every day have a 29% lower risk of heart failure. Let’s not forget, too, that oats, with their soluble fiber content and low glycemic index, can be helpful in managing blood glucose.

One cup of cooked, rolled oats contains 147 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fat, and 4 grams of fiber.

Steel-cut or old-fashioned oats are the best oats for your morning oatmeal, but quick-cooking or instant oatmeal can do in a pinch, although they’ll have a higher glycemic index. Try to avoid the sugar-sweetened versions; add your own sweetener, or, better yet, sprinkle on some cinnamon. A 42-ounce container of Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats costs $4.99.

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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