Fabulous Fibre: Rich in Health Benefits
For many of us, “dietary fiber” conjures up images of bran muffins, granola, and breads. While these foods contain valuable fiber, many are very high in carbohydrates. So what’s a dieter to do? How do we maintain a lower carb intake and still get plenty of healthy fiber? How much fiber is enough? Can you have too much? The good news is, adding fiber to your diet while watching carbs is easy, delicious, and good for you.
HOW MUCH FIBER IS ENOUGH?
The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. Fiber deficiency is far more common than excess fiber. Human consumption of dietary fiber was actually much higher in the days before refined/processed foods. However it is possible to have too much fiber. When adding fiber to your diet, try not to increase your daily intake too quickly. Symptoms of too much fiber can include bloating, abdominal pain, loose stools or diarrhea. Diabetics should be aware that increasing fiber can lower blood sugar levels. And Crohn’s Disease patients can suffer intestinal blockage from too much fiber. People with illness should always consult a doctor when undertaking any sweeping diet change.
WHAT IS SOLUBLE FIBER?
There are two kinds of fiber dieticians are concerned with – “soluble” and “insoluble” fiber. Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates, neither kind of fiber is broken down by our digestive system and absorbed. Instead, it passes relatively intact through the stomach, small intestine and colon and out of the body. Both kinds of fiber are essential for a healthy digestive system. Soluble fiber is “health food” for the important “good” probiotic bacteria in our digestive tract. Foods high in soluble fiber include beans, citrus fruits, apples, strawberries, peas, avocados and potatoes. Oats – especially oat bran — contain the most soluble fiber of any grain. Soluble fiber absorbs water to form a gel-like substance that softens stool while binding to cholesterol and sugar, helping to lower “bad” cholesterol and regulate blood sugar levels. Best of all, this soluble superstar can help us lose weight by making us feel full longer. One study showed that for each 10 additional grams of daily soluble fiber eaten, participants attained a 4% decrease in belly fat over a five-year period.
WHAT IS INSOLUBLE FIBER?
Insoluble fiber is the type most people think of. Perhaps your grandmother called it “roughage.” This is the fibrous material found in the stalks, skins and seeds of whole grains, nuts, and fruits and vegetables. “Insoluble fiber” is called that because it doesn’t dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to digestive system waste and acts as a “scouring agent” to help move food along the intestine. Foods high in insoluble fiber include wheat bran, whole grains, cereals, seeds, and the skins of many fruits and vegetables.
HOW CAN YOU ENJOY MORE FIBER WITHOUT LOADING UP ON CARBS?
Both soluble and insoluble fiber are important for good health! In a 2011 study participants who consumed the most total fiber (approx. 25 grams a day for women and 30 grams for men) had a 22% less mortality risk compared to participants who consumed the least amount of total fiber (10 grams per day for women and 13 grams for men). The good news if you are also watching carbohydrates is, there are plenty of delicious ways to add more fiber to your diet while staying “low carb.”
Selecting delicious foods that provide fiber is easy. Find out how much dietary fiber you need, the foods that contain it, and how to add them to meals and snacks. For example, asparagus, bok choy and other brassicas like broccoli are great sources of fiber with low carbohydrates. And if you love tomatoes, you’ll love the fact that they are a good low-carb source of healthy fiber! Other good high fiber and low carb options include radishes, spinach, chard, zucchini, avocados, berries, apples, peaches and other fruit. Bran – especially oat bran as mentioned previously in this article — is a sure way to add fiber to your diet without piling on the carbs. And don’t forget “superfood” seeds like chia and flax! Did you know that chia seeds are over 80% fiber, with a whopping 11 grams per ounce (28 grams)? Try adding whole chia seeds to baked goods, or grind them in a coffee grinder and use in smoothies or on salads. Throwing away your juicer pulp? Try adding it to your baked good recipes such as muffins for a healthy vegetable fiber boost.
Adding more fiber to your daily diet can help you control weight and reap many benefits. Be creative in your high fiber recipes – being healthy can and should taste great!