June 2016: Gain some Fiber, Lose some Weight, and Improve your Overall Health

There is nothing more filling than healthy food fiber....it can be a great way to lose a few pounds without crash dieting or following any fad diets.

So, what is this magical stuff? Fiber is a carbohydrate, like starch and sugar, and it comes from plants. But unlike some refined, unhealthy carbohydrates that could raise blood sugar and cause metabolic imbalances, fiber is a healthy, wholesome carbohydrate. Humans don't have enzymes to digest most fiber, which is why it works wonders in our gut and helps regulate bowel movement.

There are two types of fibers - soluble and insoluble. The former forms a gel when mixed with water and puts the mushy 'goo' in such foods as oatmeal and lentils. It works like tiny brooms, grabbing cholesterol from digestive juices and sweeping it out of our bodies. Thus, this may lower cholesterol in blood. Broom-rich foods are beans, legumes, barley, pears, citrus fruit, and apples. The second type of fiber (insoluble) soaks up water like a sponge, speeding like a train through the gastrointestinal tract, making everything bigger and softer. Drinking plenty of water and exercising regularly will help considerably in moving the train forward. Such foods include bran cereal, oat bran, whole grains (spelt, farro, millet), and most fruits and vegetables. 

Great, but how does this help with weight management? Well, whole foods with lots of fiber take longer to eat and digest than processed and refined foods - an apple vs apple juice or a baked potato with skin vs potato chips, brown rice vs white rice -  and they often have fewer calories and harder to digest calories than per serving, which makes us feel full longer (although not as long as protein). An easy way to get more fiber, liquid, and protein in one meal is to have a soup or a stew that contains vegetables and beans, great sources of fiber and protein.

In addition to weight loss and heart health, fiber may also reduce the risk of chronic inflammation. Some research also links high-fiber meals to better, deeper sleep. (1) It may also help with other gastrointestinal disorders like gastro-esophageal reflux disease, duodenal ulcer, diverticulitis, and hemorrhoids (2,3).

If you decide to start eating more fiber, two quick tips - don't eat mountains of fiber suddenly.  Without adequate water, fiber can cause a train backup rather than speeding along. Also, colon bacteria love fiber but that produces gas that could cause some cramping and bloating. Its best to add 3-5 grams of more than your usual fiber per day - like an extra piece of fruit or serving of veggies - until you are averaging 25-35 grams of fiber.

And if all this doesn't convince you, think about this. Fiber, especially the kind found in beans and legumes (called "pulses" in some countries), might actually be trendy. The United Nations has declared 2016 as International Year of the Pulses. If that is not a shout out to fiber in all its glory, I don't know what is. 

References:

1. Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983. 

2. Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19335713

3. Making Sense of Foods: Understanding Fiber. http://www.nutritionmd.org/nutrition_tips/nutrition_tips_understand_foods/fiber_benefits.html