I feel like fiber has a weird reputation because of it's association with frequent trips to the restroom and bowel movements in general (yup I went there) but fiber is no joke you guys! Fiber is one of the most powerful nutrients that you can put into your body for so many reasons but it is also one of the most commonly deficient nutrients in the western diet. I have always been pro fiber but recently I have been learning even more about it in my schooling and through my own research and my mind has pretty much been blown to say the least. I knew that I had to share my newfound knowledge with you so I'm going to tell you exactly why you should hop on the fiber bandwagon, up your intake and get excited to use the bathroom more.
WHAT EXACTLY IS FIBER?
Dietary fiber is the carbohydrates and lignins (roughage to put it simply) found in plants that cannot be digested by the digestive enzymes in the human body but still serve a (huge) purpose to our health.
There are two types of dietary fiber; soluble fiber which dissolves or absorbs water in our digestive system and creates a gel like substance and insoluble fiber which does not dissolve, cannot be digested and stays fully in tact while passing through the digestive system.
BENEFITS OF SOLUBLE FIBER
Soluble fiber as I said becomes a gel like substance in the digestive system that binds to fatty acids and slows the rate at which the stomach empties and the rate at which our cells absorb glucose (sugar) which ultimately reduces blood sugar spikes. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol and bile and reduces their absorption causing the body to draw the cholesterol that it needs to function from the blood which results in lower total blood cholesterol. It also slows the absorption of nutrients and the passage of food through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract causing you to stay full for longer.
BENEFITS OF INSOLUBLE FIBER
Because insoluble fiber cannot be digested or dissolved it adds bulk to the waste which stimulates peristalsis - a series of wave like muscle contractions that moves food along the GI tract. If I lost you at that big fancy anatomy word it basically means that the bulk stimulates waves of digestion! It also feeds the good bacteria in our gut and balances our PH which helps prevent colon cancer by stopping any harmful microbes from producing harmful substances.
FIBER AND DIGESTION
In order for our digestive system to function optimally we need to be consuming a balance of both insoluble and soluble fiber. If you consume too much or too little of one or the other it can either soften or harden waste making it uncomfortable or difficult to eliminate as stool.
Too much soluble fiber can pull water away from the gut wall which can dry it out and reduce absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream and the expansive effect of soluble fiber can also cause uncomfortable bloating and constipation.
Too much insoluble fiber can irritate the gut and inflame a sensitive digestive system and can add too much bulk to the stool making it dry, hard and difficult to pass.
But when you get the perfect balance of both everything just flows (sorry for the visual). Toxic substances are removed from the colon by binding with the gelatinous soluble fiber and the bulk that insoluble fiber provides speeds up elimination of those toxic substances which would otherwise get trapped in the colon. The combination of the two promote regularity and prevent constipation, balance our intestinal PH and feed our healthy gut microflora so it is able to fight off infection and inflammation.
FIBER AND WEIGHTLOSS
Okay so now that you know how fiber helps your insides let's talk about how fiber can make you feel good on the outside. Fiber makes you feel full without adding calories, because fiber is not digested by the body neither are the calories it provides! Fiber also negates the amount of carbs that get converted into sugar which means that as long as you are eating the right kinds of carbs (whole complex carbs) you can actually subtract the amount of fiber that you consume in a day from the amount of carbs you consume to get your total digestible carb intake. So for example if you eat 130g of carbs a day and 50g of fiber your body is actually only digesting and metabolizing 80g of net carbs (see below) into glucose for energy.
*Net carbs are what you get when you subtract total fiber in grams from total carbohydrates in grams*
So how does this affect fat loss? Well the only way to actually lose fat is for your body to burn fat as fuel and your body can only do that in the absence of glucose (the preferred fuel source) so when you lower the amount of glucose that your body is storing your body will have no choice other than to burn fat for fuel.
So by increasing your dietary fiber intake you can actually lower your overall net carb intake, stay full for longer and burn more fat. WHAT!!!!
HOW MUCH FIBER DO WE NEED TO BE CONSUMING
If we have to put a general number on it the recommended daily dose of fiber is 25g per day for women and 38g per day for men. The average daily consumption in North America is 12g and under which just shows how obviously deficient most people are in this crucial nutrient.
HOW TO INCORPORATE MORE FIBER INTO YOUR DIET
The first step in getting more fiber into your diet is cutting out the processed, refined and simple carbohydrates that we all know (and most of us love) and replacing them with real, whole, nutrient dense complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs offer high calories with very little nutrients (aka low nutrient density) or fiber so not only are these crappy simple carbs contributing to the lack of fiber in most people's diets, they are also a huge factor in the obesity and cardiovascular disease epidemic that we are currently facing as a nation.
The next step is to start incorporating at lest one source of both types of fiber at every single meal. I have listed the top sources for both types and the exact amount of fiber with serving sizes below so you literally have zero excuses to not step up your fiber game ASAP!
TOP SOURCES OF SOLUBLE FIBER
Kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, peas, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, zucchini, apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, prunes, figs, dates, barley, oatmeal, oat bran, psyllium husk, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and whole grain sprouted bread.
AMOUNT OF SOLUBLE FIBER PER SERVING
- Psyllium husk - 3.5 g per 1 Tbsp
- Oats and Oat bran - 2.2 g per 3/4 cup
- Dried figs - 1.9 g per 1/4 cup
- Orange - 1.8 g, medium size
- Fruit skin - 1.2 g per skin
- Flax seed - 1.1 g per 1 tbsp
- Tofu - 2.8 g per 3/4 cup
- Edamame - 1.5 g per 1/2 cup
- Avocado - 2.1 g per 1/2 Cup
- Black beans - 2.4 g per 1/2 Cup
- Navy beans - 2.2 g per 1/2 Cup
- Kidney beans - 2 g per 1/2 Cup
- Brussels sprouts - 2 g per 1/2 Cup
- Sweet potato - 1.8 g per 1/2 Cup
- Asparagus - 1.7 g per 1/2 Cup
- Turnip - 1.7 g per 1/2 Cup
TOP SOURCES OF INSOLUBLE FIBER
Vegetables, dark green leafy greens, root vegetable skins, fruit skins, whole grain wheat products, wheat bran, corn bran, nuts, and seeds and fiber 1 cereal.
AMOUNT OF INSOLUBLE FIBER PER SERVING
- Shredded Wheat cereal - 4.5 g per cup
- Bulgur - 4.2 grams per 1/2 cup
- Flax seeds - 2.2 g per 1 tbsp
- Wheat bran - 11.3 grams per 1/2 cup
- All Bran cereal - 7.2 g per 1/3 cup
- Kidney beans - 5.9 g per 1/2 Cup
- Pinto beans - 5.7 g per 1/2 Cup
- Navy beans - 4.3 g per 1/2 Cup
- Lentils - 4.6 g per 1/2 cup
- Peas - 3 g per 1/2 Cup
- Okra - 3.1 g per 1/2 Cup
- Turnip - 3.1 g per 1/2 Cup
It's super important for me to note that when upping your fiber intake you also have to up your water intake to match otherwise you can cause a serious back up and some very uncomfortable bloat and cramping. Now that we have your hydration locked in to accompany your new high(er) fiber diet you are ready to get regular - do you find me funny yet?
Your digestive system, colon, waistline and metabolism will thank you!