What has no calories, is not absorbed by the body, and is necessary for everything from weight loss and digestive health to blood sugar regulation and heart health?
The answer to my nutrition riddle is dietary fiber.
Advertisements make it look like a breeze to add fiber in to your life, as easy as a supplement or a sprinkle of flavored powder in water. In reality, nothing can take the place of dietary fiber. You can’t just supplement the vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need. Benefiber, Metamucil, Citrucel to name a few, have nothing on fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and whole grains and can be detrimental for three reasons:
- Isolated Fiber is not a Food
A good rule of thumb, if it’s advertised it’s most likely never a whole food. The above mentioned popular fiber supplements are no different than processed/fake foods. There is no Citrucel growing in nature and simply put, you cannot expect to live a healthy life without whole, raw, living foods.
- In the long term, fiber supplements can worsen symptoms
Fiber is the key to staying regular, yet studies show that the initial high fiber movement promoted regularity, yet that tapered off. Constipation returns and high fiber supplementation can end up contributing to the problem. This can be attributed to the fact that fiber supplements are dehydrating. Whole fruits and vegetables are hydrating and are paired with water and electrolytes. Fiber supplements are stripped of nutrients and absorb water as they make their way through the digestive tract, which can make fecal matter more compact and further exacerbate constipation.
- Fiber supplements can throw off the balance of your gut flora
A diet high in fiber from processed grains and fiber fortified foods can be devastating to gut health. Fiber alters levels of gut bacteria and in this case high levels of fiber from supplementary sources can lead to the overgrowth of bad bacteria, which can contribute to the development of diverticulitis. When fiber is in the form of whole plant foods, the bacteria in our gut ferment these fibers and these soluble fibers feed friendly (beneficial) bacteria in the gut. They can be hard on the digestive system, leading to IBS and nutritional deficiencies.
The simple and effective way to increase dietary fiber is to increase your intake of veggies, fruits, beans, grains, nuts and seeds that resist digestion. This is fiber that is mostly left intact as it makes its way through the digestive system, which creates bulk, aids in moving stool and harmful carcinogens through the digestive tract.
Dietary fiber helps clean out your digestive system and gets rid of things (think extra hormones, cholesterol, toxins and waste) that shouldn’t be there.
Dietary fiber also provides a plethora of other health benefits, including colon health and intestinal bacterial balance. Fiber-rich foods are essential for a strong immune system, faster metabolism and weight control, diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention, beautiful skin and better overall health. Fiber removes toxins, keeps things moving, gives you a sense of satiety. Without enough fiber in your diet, you will have irregularity, constipation, and sluggishness.
Most importantly, fiber protects your gut from injury and disease.
You’re NOT consuming enough dietary fiber each day.
If you are like most Americans, then you probably consume about 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day. When you really need upwards of 35-45 grams of fiber. US women get less than 14 grams of fiber per day!
Modern food science has led to a decrease in the fiber content of our foods, those processed and refined packaged foods further decrease fiber content. In the simplest terminology increasing your intake of whole fruits and vegetables is the single easiest way to increase fiber intake.
What would a diet with 35 to 45 grams of fiber look like?
½ cup gluten free oats 2 grams
½ cup raspberries 4 grams
1 oz almonds 4 grams
½ cup black beans 7.5 grams
¼ avocado 4.5 grams
1 cup spinach 4 grams
½ cup lentils 8 grams
1 cup broccoli 5 grams
Best “Sneaky” ways to add in more fiber:
- Add flaxseed meal to breakfast oats, smoothies, coconut yogurt, and even into your bakes goods. You can even add it to gluten free breadcrumbs for your chicken or fish. 2 T. of ground flax provides 3.8 grams of fiber
- Add chia seeds to your ice water, smoothies, and juices. With 5.5 grams fiber per T. this is a great way to get fiber in!
- Puree cooked vegetables and add them to sauces and stews, you can also shred fresh vegetables like zucchini, carrots, and spinach into baked goods, shakes, or even serve with morning eggs.
- Avoid peeling the skin of fruits and vegetables to increase fiber intake from fruits and vegetables
- Check out my blog on slowly adding fiber into your routine here: http://da6.beb.myftpupload.com/healthy-tips/fiber-how-to-handle-it/
It is best to increase fiber gradually as increasing fiber too quickly can lead to bloating, cramps, and gas. Build up from day to day and you will notice a difference!