Eating enough fiber is like having Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, with his sword of Valyrian steel come to your rescue against the White Walkers of health: obesity, high cholesterol, high blood sugars and toxins from your food. Fiber cleans up after your not-so-healthy food choices and builds an army inside your gut:
- It soaks up fatty acids from your fatty food choices
- It lowers the blood sugar rise from your dessert or pasta splurge.
- It helps fight colds, cancer, and diabetes.
- It will help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure.
- It absorbs toxins like lead and mercury and expels it from your body in your stool.
Your gastrointestinal tract is the most important organ of your immune system, but many people spend too much time feeding their mouth, not their gut. Most Americans only get half of the recommended amount of fiber daily. Let’s all fight the White Walkers of health and eat more fiber!
Different kinds of fiber
Fiber is a nondigestible carbohydrate that is found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes. Dietary fiber influences in a favorable way different hormones in your gut that affect insulin secretion and appetite.
The two types, soluble and insoluble fiber, serve different roles. Soluble fiber soaks up fatty acids and helps to lower the bad LDL cholesterol. It also slows down digestion and absorption of sugar from your food – slashing the blood sugar spike from the carbs in your meal.
Insoluble fiber helps absorb water in your colon and keeps you regular. Everyone likes being regular :)
Manmade or “isolated” fiber
Some food manufacturers use extracted fiber from food or use manmade fiber to enhance the fiber content of a food product. They’re like Arya Stark with her many faces, tricking you into buying their product with the allure of health. Instead, you might end up with cramps and a mad dash to the toilet.
Common “faces” for this manipulated fiber are:
- Inulin – extracted from chicory root
- Pectin – extracted from citrus peels
- Polydextrose – a polymer developed extracting molecules from glucose, sorbitol, and citric acid.
- Maltodextrin – derived from wheat
- Methylcellulose – a manmade compound by heating cellulose
If you see foods promoting their fiber content like yogurt, snack bars, and ice cream that don’t normally contain fiber, you should steer clear. You’re much better off getting your fiber from real food, not man-manipulated food.
Research findings on the benefits of fiber
A well-cited review of extensive research published in Nutrition Review supports these specific healthy benefits from fiber:
- A high fiber diet reduced the risk of ischemic stroke by 26%.
- Blood pressure was slightly reduced by eating the recommended amount of fiber in those with hypertension.
- A meta-analysis of 8 randomized controlled studies, including those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes showed that just increasing dietary fiber, with no other dietary changes, reduced post meal blood sugars by 21%, LDL by 8% and triglycerides by 8.3%.
- A longitudinal study of over 100,000 people found that those eating the highest amounts of dietary fiber had the lowest risk of obesity. In fact, those who ate high levels of dietary fiber reduced their risk of weight gain and obesity by 30%.
- Five other studies showed that there was greater weight loss on a high fiber diet over an 8-week period than with control diets.
- A high fiber meal not only reduces food consumed intake during a meal, but the following meal as well.
- Meals containing pectin, a type of soluble fiber found in fruit, berries and seeds, had slowed down gastric emptying and improved satiety. It also reduced LDL by as much as 13%
- Evidence supports that dietary fiber can improve gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), duodenal ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel disease, diverticular diseases and constipation.
- Dietary fiber feeds the good bacteria in your colon that then produces short-chain fatty acids that nourish the cells in your colon and stimulate your immune system.
How much fiber is recommended
The Institute of Medicine recommends that women under 50 get at least 25 gms daily, and 21 gms after age 50. They recommend that men under 50 get 38 gms and over 50 get at least 30 gms daily.
Not getting enough dietary fiber is like fighting the White Walkers without swords made of Valyrian steel– the White Walkers of health are eventually going to take over…
Those fast food restaurants don’t help much. A whopper and small fries at Burger King will only give you 5 gms of fiber. An “everything” bagel with cheese at Starbucks will give you only 2 gms. Even if you choose a healthier option: the spinach, feta and egg white breakfast wrap, you’ll only get 6 gms of fiber along with a heavy dose of sodium. There’s always a trade-off when you go out to eat…
But there are ways you can navigate the fast food and restaurant menu and mitigate some of the damage:
- Always choose whole grain whenever you have the opportunity, whether it’s the pizza crust, rice with Chinese takeout, bagel, or bread on your table.
- Always go with veggie options, toppings on your pizza, salad with your whopper, extra veggies on your sandwich.
- Eat an apple before you go out to eat – it’s curb your appetite and give you a nice dose of fiber.
Building your Jon Snow
It takes one gram of fiber at a time, like pieces of dragonglass, to build a strong gut that will defeat the White Walkers of health.
Insoluble fiber is found in so many foods – wheat, whole grains, skins of fruits and vegetables.
But it’s the soluble fiber that can be a little trickier to get enough of – particularly if you are trying to lower your cholesterol or blood sugars. Soluble fiber is found in psyllium – so you could add that to your cereal or take Metamucil. Or you can try to adding these foods to your daily diet:
Fruits – especially oranges, apples and berries
Carrots and green beans
Oats and oat bran
Beans, peas and lentils
Barley and flax seed
Fiber adds up
Getting to 21 to 38 gms of fiber might seem daunting but it adds up quickly if you get daily doses of beans, seeds, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cabbage. Here are some good sources of fiber:
Boost your fiber by eating these meals
Try these for breakfast:
- ½ cup cooked steel cut oatmeal mixed with 2 tbsp ground flax seed, 2 tbsp chopped walnuts and ½ green banana. Add chia seeds to boost the fiber further.
- A smoothie made of ¾ cup fat-free Greek yogurt, 2 tbsp flax seed, 1 cup frozen mixed berries, 1 cup fresh kale and ½ cup low fat milk.
- Pancakes or waffles substituting oat flour for white or wheat flour and add 2 tbsp chia seeds (I use oat flour for most of my baking since it is white and is so high in soluble fiber)
Try these for lunch:
- 100% oat bread with 2 tbsp Teddy peanut butter with thin slices of unripened banana
- Salad made with greens, shredded cabbage, sliced carrot, thawed frozen peas, sliced apple, onion and ½ cup low fat cottage cheese sprinkled with lite balsamic vinegar dressing.
- Cottage cheese mixed with berries along with sliced carrots and humus.
Try these for dinner:
- Lentil soup with a slice of corn bread.
- Instead of white rice, make rice mixing 1/3 barley, 1/3 brown rice and 1/3 lentils. These all take about 50 minutes to cook. I love adding cooked chicken sausage, onions and peppers to this and have a salad or broccoli on the side.
- Make a 3-bean salad with beans of your choice. This goes well with chicken and green beans.
Eating these types of meals will keep you full, help you lose weight, and lower your cholesterol and blood sugar.
But even more importantly, you will be keeping the White Walkers of health at bay while Jon Snow takes care of any other not-so-healthy food choices that might be on your plate as well!
Please share this post with your friends and let’s defeat the White Walkers.