Monday, October 16, 2017

The healthy carb: Fiber!

If you're reading this, it means that you have a pulse.  The word 'pulse' has other meanings, though.  For example (if you're trying to lose weight) the United Nations recently declared the International Year of Pulses.

The UN has developed and goal of everyone eating for good health - which means maximum nutrition and healthy weight.  OK, that's good.  When you're talking about the entire human race, there’s no simpler, more affordable way to do that than to eat sufficient amounts of beans and legumes, which the rest of the world calls pulses.

So why did they deserve their own special year in 2016?

It’s all about the fiber


In December 2015, a study of 427,000 people trying to lose weight shined a bright light on fiber’s super-slimming powers.  When all the data were in, it focused on those who were most successful - that is, who came within five percent of their target weight.

And it simply asked, why?  Did they consume fewer carbs?  Less sugar?  Less fat?

No.

Compared to the less successful folks, the five-percenters were pretty much the same when it came to amounts of calories, protein, fat and carbs.  There was only one significant difference.

They ate 29 percent more fiber.

Think about it. Famous brand-name diets micromanage your every bite, every day - and often with limited success.  Meanwhile, you can just eat more beans and other fiber-rich foods and get a lot better results.

Fiber: the ins and outs

Fiber is a carbohydrate, like the starch and sugar that come from plants.  However, we can’t digest it or break it down into nutrients (like other foods) because we lack the specialized enzymes to do the job.  If that sounds like a deficiency, it isn’t at all. It’s the key to fiber’s weight management and other important powers.

Fiber comes in two forms, and each with its own special benefits.

Soluble fiber mixes with water and the digestive enzymes made by your liver to create a gel.  That gooey, gluey stuff in your bowl of oatmeal?  That’s soluble fiber - which very selectively soaks up bad cholesterol as it travels through your digestive tract and escorts it out of our bodies, along with various toxins, excess hormones and other waste matter.

It also slows the absorption of sugar, making it a critical ally in preventing the blood sugar spikes that are linked to type 2 diabetes.  These are excellent reasons to accept the UN’s recommendation to make beans, brown rice, barley, peas, lentils, oats, bran, pears, citrus fruits and apples an important part of your diet.

Insoluble fiber is what folks used to call “roughage.”  Its specialty?  Soaking up water and gently swelling up inside your intestines, speeding your digestive processes through your entire gastrointestinal tract by making digestion byproducts larger and less firm.

And while it’s busy doing its cleansing work, to help keep you regular and prevent constipation, it’s also creating a feeling of satisfied fullness, which curbs your appetite for more food and more calories.  Think of it as eating a scrubbing sponge, only tastier.

OK, maybe not my best analogy, but let’s give a round of applause for bran cereal, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables - all great sources of insoluble fiber.  Another superb source of insoluble fiber is the super-food drink, Shakeology.  It does everything I just described, all by itself!

It’s not just about losing weight

All types of fiber have earned star ratings by helping manage, reverse or prevent the usual list of terrible health outcomes - i.e. cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disease, poor sleep, cancer, chronic inflammation, etc.  Fiber is also strongly linked to a reduced risk of gall stones, kidney stones, diseases of the colon and more.

It’s also a favorite nutrient for the trillions of good bacteria (probiotics) in our gut.  Keeping them well fed and fully functional is an absolutely essential - if not the essential - pillar of good health.  But don’t just rush out and eat a basket full of fiber-rich foods.

Climb the fiber ladder slowly


A nutritionist I respect recommends creating a fiber consumption baseline (an estimate of your grams of fiber consumed per day) then adding an additional 3–5 grams of fiber per day.  That’s just one extra serving of veggies or one extra piece of fruit.  Several online sources give you grams of fiber per ounce of food.

When you’re averaging 25–35 grams of fiber per day, stay at that level.

The average America consumes only 10.5 grams of fiber daily, so be sure to get there slowly.  A significant, sudden change in any behavior can have unwanted results.  In this case, overloading fiber can cause bloating, constipation, gas, cramping and all of the above.

And let your doctor know your intention.  He or she can help you navigate the dietary changes and it might be an opportunity to also adjust some other dietary behaviors as well.

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