There is a topic that has come up again and again with both my clients and in the speaking engagements I have done over the past couple of months. It made me realize 1. This topic is actually very important and I’ve never written about it, and 2. Most people do not get enough of
this, and they don’t really know what foods contain it. The topic I am talking about is fiber.
First, according to medical dictionaries, dietary fiber is;
“…that portion of ingested foodstuffs that cannot be broken down by intestinal enzymes and juices and, therefore, passes through the small intestine and colon undigested. It is composed of cellulose (which is the “skeleton” of plants), hemicellulose, gums, lignin, pectin, and other carbohydrates indigestible by humans. Dietary fiber is not to be confused with crude fiber, which is the term used in the USDA Handbook and other tables listing the composition of foods. Crude fiber is mainly lignin and cellulose and is the residue remaining after a food has been subjected to a standardized treatment with dilute acid and alkali. Crude fiber measurements usually underestimate actual total dietary fiber by at least 50 per cent.”(1)
There are two kinds of fiber and both are important. Soluble fiber is just that, it dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance. Foods that contain soluble fiber are things like oats, beans, lentils, apples, bananas, berries and some vegetables. Then there is insoluble fiber, which - you guessed it - is insoluble, meaning it does not dissolve. Insoluble fiber increases the bulk of our stool and it helps move things through our digestive tract. Foods that contain insoluble fiber are food items like bran, nuts, seeds, fruit skins, whole wheat products and some veggies. Fiber comes strictly from plant-based foods, so you will not find any fiber in animal based products such as meat, fish, eggs, milk, or cheese.
Fiber is great for many things including weight loss, a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, digestive disorders, constipation, some types of cancer, and obesity. Let’s touch on a few of these conditions.
When adding more fiber to your diet I recommend doing so slowly, and hydrate well.
When considering adding more fiber to your diet, I recommend doing it slowly and hydrate well while doing so. The more fiber you consume, the more hydration you will need to keep flushing it, and other toxins, out of your body. If you increase your dietary fiber without adding additional fluids, it can cause discomfort in the form of excess gas, bloating and/or constipation.
The recommended amount of fiber for adults is approximately 25-30 grams per day. Most do not even get half of this amount. Dr. Michael Greger, from nutritionfacts.org, provides what I think is a nice guideline. Dr. Greger suggests looking at the ratio of carbohydrate grams to dietary fiber grams and, if it is less than a 5:1 ratio, the food item should “go back on the shelf.”(8) As an example, one serving of Ezekiel Sesame Sprouted Grain Bread’s total carbohydrates is 14 grams, with 3 grams of fiber. 14 divided by 3 equals 4.67, which is less than 5 so it is considered to be a good food to include in your diet for fiber. Green lentils have a ratio of 2…great! Other high fiber foods would be things like nuts, seeds, legumes, fruit, veggies, and whole grains.
Some people try to add fiber to their diet by using supplements, but most supplemental fibers provide only soluble fiber and not insoluble. Studies show the most benefit when using both soluble and insoluble fiber together, not just one. So the best way to get your fiber is by eating whole, real, plant-based food.
So, when thinking about ways to improve your diet, one of the first things I would look at is how much fiber are you getting in your diet on a day to day basis? As I often say, when it comes to cleaning up your diet, think about adding versus taking away. Choose healthy foods to add to your diet so that eventually you will start crowding out the less nutritious, junky food, and fiber is a great place to start adding. Getting good quality soluble and insoluble fiber into your diet will not only help to heal some of the ailments we talked about, but will also help you feel more satiated, potentially lose weight, or come into your own natural weight for your body type, AND…you will be well on your way toward great health and longevity, which is what lifestyle medicine is all about.
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