Diet trends seem to come and go as fast as fashion trends, and usually with the same result: asking ourselves, WTF did I just do?
While fiber-forward diets may catch as many headlines as bootcut jeans these days, rest assured that fiber is no fad. It’s more like the perfectly tailored dress that will forever have a place in your closet.
That being said, there’s always too much of a good thing, even for the case of fiber. (Would you wear that LBD on your Sunday morning Starbucks run?) Consuming adequate fiber doesn't have to mean choking down fiber drinks or living off fiber cereal. Mother Earth has provided fiber-a-plenty!
What is Dietary Fiber, Exactly?
A bit of nutrition nerd chat before we dive in: Fiber is a type of carbohydrate our bodies can’t digest. While most carbs are broken down into sugar molecules, fiber remains intact as it makes its way through our GI tract. Fiber actually helps the body regulate its use of sugar, keeping blood sugar levels stable and the hangries at bay.
Consuming adequate fiber helps your digestive system run smoothly (pun intended), which might mean more than you think. Yes, fiber is best known for keeping things moving, but research has also shown us fiber also helps prevent heart disease, diverticular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers while helping our bodies maintain a healthy weight. Fiber is critical to our health, but ironically, we don’t actually digest it! Fiber passes through our GI tract relatively intact, which is far more than we can say after a long, difficult journey...you know, like going to the grocery store on the weekend.
There are two types of fiber: soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble (don’t dissolve). We need both kinds of fiber to keep our bodies in balance. Here’s a little rundown of each:Name: Soluble fiber
Superpower: Becomes a gel when mixed with water. Helps slow digestion, lower blood cholesterol, and lower blood glucose levels
Can be found in: Oatmeal, berries, nuts, and beans
Name: Insoluble fiber
Superpower: Adds bulk to our stool to help move things through our digestive system, which keeps us regular.
Can be found in: Wheat, brown rice, legumes, and veggies
Dietary Fiber: the gift that keeps on giving
By regulating our digestive system, fiber helps us stay fuller longer, avoid constipation, and regulate our blood sugar levels, which is going to help us feel great on the day to day.
But fiber can also support our long term health. Here are three staggering statistics from the CDC:
- One third of Americans will be diagnosed with high cholesterol in their lives.
- 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes, and about 90%-95% of them have type 2 diabetes.
- Obesity rates among adults and children are on the rise.
Fiber is not a cure-all for any of this, but here are three encouraging stats about how fiber can help improve these areas of health:
- Five or more grams of insoluble fiber a day will decrease your cholesterol levels by reducing the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.
- In people with type 2 diabetes, soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Adequate fiber intake can also help prevent type 2 diabetes.
- Adequate fiber intake has been shown to prevent and treat obesity-related illnesses and disorders.
I’m ready to board the fiber train. Where do I start?
Children and adults need 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day. The average American eats 12 grams! Here are 3 ways to up your fiber intake without really trying:
Put down the peeler. Consuming the skins of produce like apples, pears and potatoes is always a good idea-that’s where the fiber can be found.
Opt for whole grains. Trying swapping regular pasta for whole wheat pasta or brown rice for white rice.
Go nuts for nuts. Add a handful of nuts as a morning or afternoon snack. The mix of fiber and healthy fats will keep you satiated until your next meal.
We’ll end with a little food for thought: For decades, studies have shown that high fiber diets are directly linked to longer and healthier lives. In the next installment of our gut health series, we are going to talk about why and how that might be. (Spoiler alert: it involves your gut bugs.)
Until next time, Everipe fam!