Fiber foods–yuck! Who doesn’t have an image of high fiber health foods and their similarity to a hay-bale? Isn’t this why we opt for that last glazed in the case instead of those bran muffins which nobody else is buying either?
No, you are not alone, since most of us get around 15 grams of fiber a day–a far cry from the recommended 25 grams for women, and 38 grams for men. In fact, the fiber content of foods found in the Standard American Diet (SAD) are typically somewhere between far-lacking and non-existent, which is why the SAD leaves us feeling bloated, sick and sluggish, with weight-gain being just one of the many epidemics stemming from it.
But who wants to eat high fiber foods, and why do we need to? Well, believe it or not, there are actually more tasty options than you may realize, which is something we will touch on later. But for now, let’s just take a look at WHY it is probably a good idea to work a bit more fiber into your diet.
Soluble vs Insoluble
First off, we should understand what fiber is, and what the two types of dietary fiber are.
Fiber itself is indigestible plant matter which is technically a carbohydrate, as well as an essential nutrient. Without it, we stand to endure a host of health problems, not the least of which is our ability to maintain a healthy weight and to be regular.
There are also two different types of fiber–both of which are essential to our diet:
- Soluble Fiber–A water-absorbent fiber which turns gelatinous once saturated. It is for this reason that foods high in soluble fiber help us feel full, and also helps slow our digestion. Soluble fiber is essential in removing cholesterol by attaching to cholesterol particles and removing them from the body, which is why oatmeal is known to lower cholesterol. Such foods as bananas (particularly when on the green side), berries, apples and oatmeal are all high in soluble fiber, as are most fruits and whole grains.
- Insoluble Fiber— A fiber which does not absorb water, though one which aids in weight loss and digestive health. Think of insoluble fiber as nature’s internal scrub brush, which, just like your toothbrush, should be used each and every day. Foods such as fruit and vegetable skins (don’t peel if you don’t have to!), whole grains and brown rice are all high in insoluble fiber.
But why do we need all this fiber? Isn’t it just something which helps us with–ahem–regularity?
Well, yes, that is one of the many important thing fiber helps us with. However, fiber’s benefits don’t stop there.
Hormones balance is something which many of us would never associate with fiber. However, fiber is essential in maintaining healthy hormone levels, since it acts as your body’s filter by attaching to your body’s “waste” hormones–or hormones your body has either spent, or produced too much of–and removing them via the waste process. When these waste hormones remain in the body, they are reabsorbed, thereby causing an imbalance, which then has something of a domino effect on other hormones produced by the endocrine system. For women, this often leads to “super-periods” due to excess amounts of estrogen in the system; and for all of us, low energy, weight gain, sluggishness, irritability and depression are also indications that our hormones may be out of balance.
Prebiotics: A Probiotic’s Best Friend
Another surprise benefit of adequate fiber is it’s ability to help maintain healthy gut flora–AKA, probiotics. In fact, these probiotics actually feed on what we refer to as prebiotics, which are fiber compounds that, though indigestible to you, are highly necessary in maintaining healthy microorganisms inside of you.
And, as we know, gut bacteria are a key component to good health, and without a healthy “ecosystem” of flora inside of us, we are likely to experience:
- A weakened immune system.
- Bloating, constipation and unhealthy digestion.
- Weight gain.
- Low energy.
- Fogginess and an inability to focus.
So not only does fiber keep you clean and healthy in itself, it also feeds those hard-working little microbes inside of you–don’t let ’em starve!
….and Of Course, There’s Regularity–Duh!
Okay, so we also have to mention what is hopefully the most obvious function of fiber in our diet–regularity. As anyone who has consumed a large salad followed by a bowl of chili con frijoles can confirm, fiber gets us MOVING! This comes from both the aforementioned “scrub brush” nature of fiber, as well as fiber’s key role in maintaining healthy gut bacteria.
And no, constipation is not merely uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerously unhealthy. Amongst the many side effects constipation can lead to are:
- Bad Breath.
- Loss of appetite.
- Colon cancer.
So as you can see, if you are having trouble enjoying your “special moment” on a daily basis, perhaps it is time to consider more fiber in your diet.
Hopefully you are also starting to see the synergistic relationship between fiber, gut bacteria and your health!
How Much Fiber is Too Much?
Of course, just like so many other things, there is a limit to how much fiber you should be consuming, as well as how quickly you should introduce fiber into your diet.
If you are adding fiber to your diet, be sure and add it slowly, and don’t immediately reach for every fiber supplement you can get your hands on.
You should also be aware of a need for increased hydration, since the aforementioned soluble fiber absorbs and removes water from your system, which can actually create, rather than alleviate, constipation. Soluble fiber actually needs to be hydrated in order to move through you, and if it isn’t…well, you get the idea–being full of dry fiber is not a good thing!
There are also other side effects of consuming too much fiber, including:
- Poor mineral absorption.
- Both diarrhea AND constipation.
So remember when adding fiber to your diet to go slow, drink plenty of water, and perhaps even be prepared for a little discomfort due to bloating and gas. Don’t worry, it is only temporary–just be sure to work up to what is good for you, and you will be just fine!
Wrapping it Up
As previously mentioned, just because of its hay-bale image, high fiber does not have to mean no flavor.
In fact, with a few tweaks to your diet and the addition of things like whole grains, vegetables and fruits, you should be able to get to the recommended 20-40 grams of fiber per day without too much trouble.
Looking for fiber at the dinner table? Look no further than:
- Whole grain breads and cereals.
So steam some artichokes, enjoy some brown rice and beans with avocado and salsa–maybe even bake a spaghetti squash and top with your favorite marinara! Just use your imagination, and your palette will come alive.
Don’t forget desert either, since berries have around 8 grams of fiber per cup, and tasty fruits such as mango’s and Asian Pears are also great sources of soluble and insoluble fiber–enjoy!