Being RiskAverse: Stop Counting Calories and Start Counting Fiber
What is Fiber and its Function?
Why is fiber intake important? Many know what fiber is right? It is the stuff in food that helps you regularly go to bathroom. Although true, that is only part of the story.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. They both support digestion, but have a lot of other functions the separate the two of them.
Fiber’s primary function is to aid in digestion. It functions as an indigestible component of your food. By not being digested, it then moves through your gut pushing waste products and keeping your digestive system in pristine condition. This process helps maintain nutrient absorption while limiting symptoms of digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome. (1) But fiber does so much more…
Fiber Does A Lot More Than Move Things Along
Fiber supports Weight Loss
Fiber is not digested by our bodies, so it does not increase caloric intake. In fact, it actually has been shown to reduce it (2).
- It takes up space in your stomach, which causes you to become fuller faster. This effect can help prevent overeating, as you reach fullness before you can consume too much.
- Not only does it fill you up faster, but it keeps you fuller for longer. Your fullness is determined by the contents in your stomach, and it likes to sit in your stomach longer, which makes your body think its not hungry for longer.
- Fuller faster + Fuller Longer = Less eating.
Fiber reduces your risk for Chronic Disease
Numerous studies show that increased fiber intake has been linked to reduced risk of most major chronic conditions including: Cancers, Diabetes Type 2, and Heart Disease (3).
- Soluble fiber consumption has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and both fibers help keep blood sugar levels down and minimize inflammation.
Fiber is great for Mental Health
A hot topic in healthcare is gut health; specifically the microbiome – a collection of good bacteria in your lower gut that supports digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function, among many other things. What has been shown is that when it is consumed, specifically soluble fiber, it feeds these good bacteria to help them flourish. When these bacteria are doing well, our gut is really healthy. When our gut is really healthy, our brain can function at a much higher rate! (4) This relationship is known as the bi-directional gut axis. (5)
Without fiber, many healthy compounds do not function as well
A collection of compounds in fruits and vegetables (where a lot of fiber comes from) have what is known as antioxidant capabilities. These compounds neutralize dangerous compounds formed in our body called free radicals. If left unchecked, these free radicals can lead to cancer, diabetes, and other horrible conditions. When they are consumed as supplements (not in their natural form, like an apple, when fiber is not present) they no longer show the same potent antioxidant effects. (6) This is why getting all your nutrients from juices and supplements is inadequate!
America Falls Short on Fiber
All these amazing benefits, you would think that people are doing everything they can to get in all kinds of fiber. Unfortunately, this is not true. In fact, only 5% of Americans consume the recommended amount of fiber each day (25 grams for females, 38 grams for males). (7) Reasons include the belief that all whole-grain foods are good sources of fiber and that foods with fiber are expensive, unpalatable, and complicated to prepare. Essentially the issue can be summed up as a poor understanding of fiber.
Counting Fiber is a Better Indicator of a Healthy Diet Than Calories
When overweight or obese individuals counted their fiber intake, they showed a more successful weight loss effort and diet adherence than when counting macronutrients (i.e. calories, carbs, fats, proteins). (8) Nearly half of America is reporting trying to currently lose some weight and a staggering 42% are now classified as at least overweight. All these reports point to a major interest in weight management, yet only 1 in 10 Americans even know how much fiber to actually consume. (9)
You constantly see fad diets that are wildly popular. Paleo, Keto, Atkins, and other diets promote a strong restriction of certain types of foods; most commonly carbs. Well, I hate to be the one to point it out, but fiber is a carb and many of the best sources come from predominantly carbs (Whole grains and fruit).
Let’s break it down then. Fiber has been shown as arguably the best indicator of weight loss when counted and adhered to. Counting fiber does not restrict any major component of your diet. Consuming sufficient amounts of fiber prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes and more. Yet, less than 10% of Americans know how much to consume and only 5% consume enough. Our population has more chronic conditions and are more overweight than ever. We are also eating less fiber than ever before despite diet and weight loss being an issue for nearly half the population. Looks to me like this should be more of a topic of discussion when discussing weight loss rather than keto vs. Whole 30.
Visualizing 100 Calories in High vs. Low Fiber Foods
What makes fiber such a great weight loss resource is that the sheer amount of volume needed to consume for the same caloric equivalency as low fiber foods is MASSIVE. A high volume of food means more time and space taken in digestion; also, this means that it is more difficult to overeat while guaranteeing that you are eating healthy foods (high fiber foods are usually some of the healthiest on the planet)!
1 apple, 1 banana, 25 strawberries, or 1.5 grapefruit
3 cucumbers, 2 carrots, or 2 heads of romaine
1 oz of cheese
What Are the Best Sources of Fiber?
Alright fiber is great, but what are the best foods to really increase my intake? These rankings are based on the amount provided by a serving of that food – some foods have more fiber per gram but have smaller serving sizes.
1 cup of whole wheat pasta– 20% (6 g)
These are the top source, but not to be mistaken as the only sources. Generally, focus on increasing fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds, beans (legumes), and whole grains if you want to ramp up your fiber intake.
Quick Ways to Easily Boost Fiber Intake
- Each morning, have a piece of fruit to start the day off
- Couple it with a nut type of butter to add more fiber!
- Try to have a smoothie once a day – you can pack in fruit, vegetables, nuts & seeds, and grains into one meal to get a massive amount of fiber
- Pre-cut your vegetables. Have vegetables readily consumable around your house so that you can quickly snack on them. Carrots, cucumbers, and celery are great options.
- Add vegetables to eggs. Eggs and vegetables can make a great, savory combo. Vegetables to add to a scramble include leafy greens, bell pepper, onions, and more.
Resources to Take Your Health to the Next Level
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