Your Skinny “Pill”: FIBER?
How Fiber Works
A few years ago, it was the f-word that no one wanted to use. Today, it’s plastered all over packages at the supermarket. (That’s fiber, people, fiber.) Last year, manufacturers introduced more than 1,500 high-fiber, whole-grain products — an increase of 121 percent since 2005. Now we have high-fiber English muffins and even high fiber chocolate bars.
Nutritionists’ early attempts to get Americans to embrace fiber flopped. But since then, the f-stuff has gotten some serious science behind it. Studies peg foods and natural supplements rich in fiber to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer — and to losing weight without feeling hungry. For instance, researchers at Harvard Medical School found that women who increased their intake of high-fiber over a 12-year period were half as likely to become obese as those who decreased their consumption.
So How Does Fiber Work, Anyway?
Basically, it’s the part of plant foods — vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, legumes, and seeds — that your body can’t digest. There are two types of fiber: insoluble, which helps food pass through your digestive system, and soluble, which helps eliminate fat and lower cholesterol. Thanks to soluble fiber, sugars and fats enter your bloodstream at a slower rate, giving you a steady supply of energy. “When you eat foods that lack fiber, your blood sugar can spike quickly. Then it crashes, causing hunger and overeating,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The F-Factor Diet.
The more fiber a food has, the better. “Fiber-packed products tend to be low-cal, so you can eat a lot,” Zuckerbrot says. “Fiber makes you full, because it swells in your stomach when it absorbs liquid.”
Fiber is also a heart hero: It helps to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and it increases blood flow. Soluble fiber’s effect on cholesterol is so potent that the FDA allows companies to advertise this fact on products like oatmeal. The nutrient may also reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester found that people with the highest fiber intake were 63 percent less likely to have elevated levels of CRP than people who followed lower-fiber diets.
Why You Need More Fiber
Most of us aren’t getting enough. The average American woman consumes about 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day — about half of what’s needed to meet the basic recommendation of 25 grams. And experts say that more is even better — about 30 to 40 grams a day, according to David L. Katz, MD, MPH, an associate professor adjunct of public health and director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. Check out the chart below to learn how to fight hunger and up your intake without upsetting your system.
Be Smart about Swaps
Stop! Before you put that healthy-looking loaf of bread in your shopping cart, be sure you know what you’re getting. Read the label carefully — and check the fiber content. Bread is very LOW IN FIBER, but because it is a grain people think it is loaded with fiber. WRONG!!!
Instead go for these Powerhouses:
1. Split Peas: Fiber: 16.3 grams per cup, cooked.
2. Lentils: Fiber: 15.6 grams per cup, cooked.
3. Black Beans: Fiber: 15 grams per cup, cooked.
4. Lima Beans: Fiber: 13.2 grams per cup, cooked.
6. Peas: Fiber: 8.8 grams per cup, cooked.
7. Broccoli: Fiber: 5.1 grams per cup, boiled.
8. Brussels Sprouts: Fiber: 4.1 grams per cup, boiled.
10. Blackberries: Fiber: 7.6 grams per cup, raw.
11. Avocados: Fiber: 6.7 grams per half, raw.
12. Pears: Fiber: 5.5 grams per medium fruit, raw.
13. Bran Flakes: Fiber: 7 grams per cup, raw.
14. Whole-Wheat Pasta: Fiber: 6.3 grams per cup, cooked.
15. Pearled barley: Fiber: 6 grams per cup, cooked.
16. Oatmeal: Fiber: 4 grams per cup, cooked.
Sneaky Tips to Add More Fiber to Any Meal
Products that you mix into your food, such as Daily Fiber Boost or Digestion Plus, are often a good way to make sure you’re getting the basic recommendation of 25 grams a day. But it’s still important to eat foods rich in fiber, which contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Doctors think some of the health benefits attributed to fiber may depend on these other supplements, says Kathy McManus, RD.
Organic (when possible)
Beware of: (Metamucil, Benefiber and Fiber Choice)