In yesterday’s post I singled out the fiber content in each of the carb-rich foods and yesterday’s “menu” racked up an impressive 45 grams, almost double the minimum recommended 25. So why is fiber so important? Well, there are several reasons.
There are two main types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is the type that’s heart healthy. It’s found in oats, beans, barley, and the soft, sticky “meat” of fruit. Insoluble is the type that helps with bowel regularity (think roughage!). It comes from veggies, the skin and seeds of fruit, and whole grains. I think of it as nature’s Roto-Rooter.
Soluble fiber helps control cholesterol by basically grabbing onto it and preventing it from being absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. Fiber is also linked to a reduced risk of digestive problems including diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and hemorrhoids (in addition to insoluble fiber’s roughage effect, soluble fiber helps soften everything up). And fiber helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and control body weight. Pretty great stuff!
In a nutshell fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but our bodies aren’t capable of digesting it or breaking it up into bits that are small enough to be absorbed from the digestive system into the bloodstream. That means fiber fills you up, but doesn’t provide any calories because it never actually gets into your body (it goes right “through” you if you know what I mean – think of your digestive system as a tunnel that goes through your body – in essence that’s what it is!).
Fiber also slows down the digestion and absorption of other types of carbohydrate. Because of this, a high fiber meal will leave you fuller longer. In one of my previous posts I mentioned that a study in Brazilian dieters found that over a 6 month period, each addition gram of fiber resulted in an extra quarter pound weight loss. That’s impressive! Another way that high fiber foods help with weight control is they take longer to chew. Think about chewing on broccoli or a large salad vs. saltines or white bread. For 60 calories you can eat either 2 cups of chopped broccoli (which packs 5 g of fiber) or 1 slice of white bread (with zero g).
In yesterday’s post you can see exactly where every gram of fiber comes from (beans and lentils are especially high) but here are a few more tips for fitting it in:
Make veggies the star of your meals rather than meat. One cup (1 baseball worth) of veggies typically provides 3 g of fiber, so adding 2-3 cups can fill a quarter or more of your daily fiber quota.
Choose fruits with edible seeds, skins and membranes. For example, a quarter of a medium cantaloupe has only 1 g of fiber while a medium orange has 7 g and 1 cup of raspberries contains 8 g.
Pop up some popcorn as a snack (it counts as a whole grain). One bag of no oil, no salt microwave popcorn (I like Bearitos organic brand) popped provides only about 220 calories along with 10 g of fiber.
Swap regular pasta for whole wheat. A half cup of cooked whole wheat pasta typically provides about 6 g of fiber compared to 1-2 g in traditional pasta.
Top salads or fill corn tortillas with beans or lentils instead of meat. A half cup packs 5-10 grams.
As you increase your fiber intake, be sure to drink plenty of extra water. Water is needed to help the fiber move through your system. Too little water and too much fiber can be a recipe for constipation and a bad tummy ache!
Do you have any questions about fiber? Fire away!