- Hannah Aylward
Fiber: The Underrated Superfood
Fiber: The Underrated Superfood
by Hannah Aylward
I know, I know. When we think about fiber, it sounds basic. We probably think about prunes, Fiber One Cereal, and those icky powders that our grandparents mix with water so that things keep on moving, if you know what I mean.
I am here to tell you fiber is so much more than that. It may not be a fancy mushroom powder or a turmeric mylk, but in my book, it is a totally underrated superfood.
Fiber is the part of carbohydrates that cannot be digested. It is found in the tough cell walls of plants — fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends women get 25 to 35 grams of fiber in their diet daily, and men, 38 grams. Unfortunately, most adults in the United States get only 9 to 11 grams of fiber per day. Wow, huge difference there. To no surprise, refined or processed foods, like pulp-free juices, white bread and pasta, and non-whole-grain cereals, are lower in fiber than whole, unprocessed varieties. The grain-refining process removes the outer coat (bran) from the grain which lowers its fiber content.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates — which our bodies break down and absorb — fiber is not digested. Instead, fiber passes through the digestive tract, absorbing water along the way, before exiting the body.
Fiber can be broken up into two different kinds:
Soluble fiber swells like a sponge in the stomach giving food a jellylike bulk that makes you feel full. Soluble fiber also binds with calories and fat in the stomach and intestines and pulls them out of the body before they can enter the bloodstream. Good sources of soluble fiber include oat bran, apples, oranges, pears, lentils, strawberries, nuts, beans, dried peas, blueberries, cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
Insoluble fiber, also known as roughage, includes the woody or structural parts of plants. It helps speed the passage of material through the digestive tract, keeping everything moving and naturally burning calories in the process. Good sources of insoluble fiber include: whole grains, wheat bran, brown rice, seeds, nuts, zucchini, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and other fruits and veggies eaten with the skins.
Get this — most whole plant foods contain both types of fiber, so you don’t have to worry. Once again, it comes back to eating your veggies!
FIBER’S BIG BENEFITS
Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it, making it easier to pass. A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease).
Fiber helps keep blood glucose levels steady, providing your body with sustained energy.
Fiber helps absorb toxins in the blood and eliminates them through the digestive tract instead of your pores, producing bright, clearer skin.
Gut bacteria live off two food sources — the food we cannot digest, which is fiber, and the products of digestion that are made locally in our intestines. So we have to make sure that we are getting enough fiber in to feed those good bacteria! We know how important our gut health is to overall health.
Many people have difficulty sleeping because they live on a blood sugar roller coaster — up and down all day long. Eating refined carbohydrates causes your blood sugar level to peak and then crash. If you continue this way of eating throughout the day, levels can crash during sleep, causing many to wake up in the middle of the night. Fiber-rich foods help keep blood sugars steady, preventing this from happening.
Fibrous food helps to regulate levels of estrogen in the body. Studies have shown that women on a high-fiber diet have lower levels of circulating estrogen, meaning less estrogen stimulation of breast tissue, for example, which reduces the risk of breast cancer.
Soluble fiber may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering "bad" cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that high-fiber foods may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation. Good sources of soluble fiber include: black beans, lima beans, Brussels sprouts, avocados, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and flaxseeds.
High-fiber foods generally make you feel fuller for longer. Foods that are naturally high in fiber, tend to be low in calories too. Studies have shown that people on high-fiber diets typically eat about 10% fewer calories. Other large studies have found that people with high fiber intake tend to weigh less. As mentioned above, fiber also helps keep blood sugar levels steady, therefore preventing huge surges in insulin, the fat storage hormone.
A groundbreaking study of nearly 400,000 people over a ten-year period conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that those who ate fiber-rich diets lived longest. Fiber was credited with reducing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, infectious and respiratory disease, and some forms of cancer.
If this article makes you want to adjust your diet from one low in fiber to one high in fiber, make sure to increase your water intake to avoid feeling bloated. Your body will adapt to the increase — and you will feel amazing!
**We recommend that you do not rely solely on the information presented and that you always read labels, warnings, and directions before using or consuming a product. You should consult your health care professional before making any changes to your regular health care routine.
Hannah Aylward is a Certified Health Coach, nutrition consultant, fitness instructor, healthy living expert, and founder of HAN. She helps both men and women around the world lose weight, heal skin disturbances, balance hormones, heal gut imbalances and feel at home in their bodies through healthy eating, movement, mindfulness and positive self-talk. Her goal is to help others “learn the tools that they need to live the lives they deserve”. Get to know her by visiting her website and following her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.