Are You Getting Enough of this “Good Carbohydrate” that is Essential to Your Health and Longevity?
Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods (in grains, beans, nuts fruit and vegetables). Although you can’t digest it, fiber performs many critical functions in the body and is protective against many diseases including Type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and many others.
How Much Do We Need?
The average American eats less than 15 grams per day of fiber whereas the recommendations for women are at least 25 grams and 38 grams for men. Many people tell me that they are on a paleo or “caveman” diet and focus on only eating meats and avoiding all carbohydrates. However, our paleolithic ancestors ate over 50 grams per day of fiber per day! If you want to keep track of the fiber you eat, there are a number of free apps for iOS and Android that can help you track your fiber intake such as the Careclinic, MyFitnessPal, LoseIt, Cronometer and many more.
Types of Fiber
There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Plant foods will have a mixture of both. For example, an apple peel contains insoluble fiber but the meat inside the apple contains soluble fiber.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel. It gives you the feeling of fullness and has many health benefits including helping maintain a healthy weight and decreasing cholesterol and blood sugar. Studies show that eating fiber can lower the C-reactive protein (CRP), an important marker of inflammation and heart disease risk. Soluble fiber protects you from developing intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”) which can lead to gastrointestinal inflammation and autoimmune disease. Certain fibers are called “prebiotics” because these fibers help feed the good bacteria (probiotics) in your gut. We know that having a healthy population of good bacteria is not only essential to the health of the gastrointestinal system but also every system of our body including the brain and heart.
Soluble fiber is found in oat bran, beans (especially lentils), tofu, avocado, green vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, chia seeds, apples, blueberries, sweet potato and many others
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It helps to move food through your digestive system and is important for bowel regularity and preventing constipation, diverticulitis and hemorrhoids.
Foods with insoluble fibers include wheat bran, beans, quinoa, brown rice, legumes, leafy greens like kale, almonds, walnuts, seeds, and fruits with edible skins like pears and apples.
What About Juicing?
To get adequate fiber, you should eat plant foods in their natural form. Fresh vegetable and fruit juices do contain vitamins and minerals but they DO NOT contain the beneficial fiber. When you juice fruits and vegetables, you are removing one of the most beneficial ingredients! Juicing can also raise blood sugar because the fiber slows down the absorption of sugars in fruits and vegetables, preventing spikes in blood sugar and insulin.
A Word About Special Carbohydrate Limiting Diets
Some of our patients are on a very low carbohydrate diet for specific health reasons. This might mean that their fiber intake is low. Whether you are following a low carbohydrate or KETO diet for diabetes or brain health or a low fiber, SCD or low FODMAP diet for specific illness or gut restoration, eating fiber is still important. In time, you may be able to bring some of these important foods back into your diet. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to maintain fiber intake while sticking to your specialized diet program.
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