reading time: ca. 3 min
We all know our bodies need calcium for bones, vitamin C to fend off colds, and chocolate to save relationships. But there is another component to our health and happiness that gets easily overlooked because it is "empty" and "bulking" and seemingly useless. This little puzzle piece is dietary fiber.
This is part of a little trivia series on the ABC of raw food lifestyle essentials where i share my knowledge of food and nutrition*. click here for the previous episode.
Episode 6: F for Fiber.
What is dietary fiber?
(source: Harvard Public School of Health)
As opposed to other food components (carbohydrates, protein, fat) dietary fiber does not contribute any nutritional value to our body as it can't be digested or absorbed. What is it good for then, you might ask. Think of it as the equivalent of birds swallowing small stones, or cats and dogs chewing on grass to help grind up their food. There are two types of fiber, commonly classified as soluble (dissolving in water) and insoluble (not dissolving). You want to get a good mix of soluble and insoluble fiber, because both help your digestive health in different ways. Soluble fiber helps to regulate blood sugar by lowering glucose levels as well as lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. It is also associated with reducing risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Insoluble fiber helps with constipation as it supports bowel movement and increases stool bulk (meaning: will make your visit to the toilet more pleasant). TMI: If you have loose, watery stools, fiber may also help to solidify the stool because it absorbs water and adds bulk to stool.
- Above that dietary fiber helps keep us trim and feeling full. High-fiber foods also require more chewing time in general, which gives our body time to register when we're no longer hungry, so we're less likely to overeat. Neat, right?
How much fiber do i need?
Nutrition guidelines recommend 25 to 38 grams per day for good health. Men need generally more than females. Good rule of thumb: 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories!
Where do i get dietary fiber?
Excellent sources of fiber:
- fresh vegetables (dark leafy greens, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, ...)
- fresh fruit (apples, pears, strawberries, oranges, bananas, blueberries, mangoes, ...)
- dried fruit (apricots, raisins, prunes ...)
- cooked vegetables (including beans, peas, lentils, cabbage, potatoes, pumpkin, corn, asparagus, ...)
- nuts & seeds (flaxseed!)
- wheat bran, barley, couscous, bulgur, tempeh, ...
An example of what 4 grams of fiber can look like:
2 slices of whole-wheat bread
1 cup of cooked brown rice
1 large apple
1 medium-large banana
1 medium pear
1 cup strawberries
1 cup broccoli, cooked
1 cup carrots, raw
1 sweet potato, raw or cooked
1 cup oatmeal, cooked
2 teaspoons flaxseed
10 simple tips to start a fiber-rich diet:
1) Instead of drinking processed fruit juice, eat the whole fruit! 1 peeled orange has nearly 3 g more fiber than even the pulpiest orange juice. And this is a win-win: eating whole fruits is more filling and satiating as well! Same goes for vegetable juices.
2) When making smoothies add a handful of leafy greens like romaine lettuce, spinach, or kale! If you don't like the taste of "green smoothies", add more sweet fruit to balance it out! ( -> green smoothie formula)
3) Replace refined grains - such as white flour, white pasta, and white rice - with whole grains: whole-wheat pasta, wholemeal bread, and brown rice or wild rice! NOTE: Check the ingredient list! Products that say "100% wheat" or "multigrain" are not automatically whole grain.
4) Instead of rice, consider eating quinoa since it has twice the amount of fiber than most grains.
5) Leave the skin on! Eat apples, pears, carrots, even cucumber etc. without peeling their edible skins (to avoid pesticide residues, wash skins thoroughly before eating, and opt for organic varieties when you can!) It's also worth knowing that this way you will also benefit from the vitamins and minerals that are stored directly underneath the skin.
6) Start with breakfast: have a good portion of fresh fruit (cut up or in a smoothie) and/or a bowl of oatmeal, either cooked or uncooked! ( -> overnight oatmeal) If you have a favourite cereal you just can't let go of, add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran, oats or flaxseed to it. Or raisins!
If you like to eat toast in the morning, again make it whole wheat toast.
If you are a yoghurt-person, mix in a handful or with high-fiber granola, steel-cut oats, flaxseed, chia seeds, and/or fruit to keep your digestive system happy and healthy!
7) With every savory meal have a raw vegetable salad at a side!
8) Pack your snacks: keep a small bag of nuts, such as almonds, pistachios or walnuts, or seeds, such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, in your bag or car.
9) If you're making pancakes or waffles, substitute wheat bran for a third of the all purpose flour. Or completely substitute with oat flour, ground flax seeds or coconut flour!
10) Lastly: Drink plenty of WATER! Especially when eating oats, flaxseed or dried fruit - trust me on this. If you increase your fiber intake without getting enough water, well, it's kind of like a "dry sponge" effect...
* note: i am not a nutritionist nor dietician. however i did spend three years reading up on nutrients, dietary needs, various forms of nutrition and eating disorders, and do consider myself quite an educated food friend. if there's anything i misrepresented or missed out, feel free to correct me.
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