Long touted as essential for heart health, and more recently for digestive health, fiber is also an important ally in the battle of the bulge.
Fiber has a wonderful capacity to assist in appetite suppression. Which is more filling – consuming 8 oz. of freshly squeezed apple juice or the 3 apples it took to make that juice? When we juice, we discard the pulp (fiber) and consume the rest. That fiber is key to keeping us full and happy over the long term. It provides bulk, slows absorption and prevents blood sugar from skyrocketing, preventing strong hunger pangs after the inevitable crash.
Within the stomach lies signals that get triggered when the muscles of the stomach wall stretch, creating a cascade of messages that basically tell our body to stop being hungry. The longer something sits in the stomach, the longer time passes before we receive a signal to eat again. Complex foods which take a lot of time to break down last in the stomach longer. This is why whole foods are so important. They give your belly something to work on, where a refined food like Red Vines or white bread need little effort to get into the blood stream.
Want to see it for yourself? Take a piece of white bread and a piece of 100% whole wheat bread. Place each in a separate bowl of water and wait five minutes. The white bread will collapse in your hands. The whole wheat bread, although soggy, will remain more intact. Imagine what would happen if that water was 98.6 degrees and we added some stomach acid to it!
Aside from sustaining fullness, fiber also stops some calories from being absorbed. By decreasing the time food sits in the digestive tract, as well as binding to bits of food particles, fiber reduces the total caloric load absorbed by the body.
Fiber is actually quite easy to find. Current recommendations for fiber are 20 -35 grams per day. Most Americans get about 10-15 grams a day. Research shows that blood sugar management in diabetes is greater when fiber intake reaches 50 grams a day. For purposes of weight loss, I recommend my clients take in between 30 and 50 grams a day.
So, to recap:
Fiber helps prevent heart disease, contributes to healthy digestive tracts, keeps you more full on less food, and keeps you fuller longer! Fiber inhibits a small percentage of calories from being absorbed, and minimizes blood sugar spikes, having a beneficial effect on diabetes and insulin levels. Where is fiber found?
In whole plant foods! Think fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as brown rice, corn, quinoa, kamut berries, wild rice; beans, peas, and lentils, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and taro root.
Ground flax seed, psyllium husk and various brans (wheat/oat/rice) can be added to oatmeal, smoothies, or other foods to increase fiber intake and fullness.
What are some ways you can sneak more fiber into your day?