These days, diet culture is telling us to cut carbs (and pretty much everything else). But the no-carb craze fallout is that many of us drop one of the most important carbs: fiber. Not all carbs are created equal. Unlike simple or “fast” carbs such as sugar, white flour, pastries, soda, and most processed snacks, fiber is a carb that benefits our bodies in many ways. (At Found, we refer to healthy carbs as “slow carbs” because they move slowly through your digestive system.)
Avoiding fiber-rich, nutrient-dense foods can hinder progress in your weight care journey. Here’s why you need fiber in your diet for sustainable weight care.
Fiber is a carb that our bodies don’t digest—it remains mostly intact as it passes through the digestive tract. You might know fiber as the go-to for healthy bowel movements (or, erm, occasional and much needed relief). Fiber also provides a host of health benefits that make it crucial to health and weight loss, such as maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and promoting satiety (that feeling of satisfaction or fullness you get without feeling like a Thanksgiving-level food coma’s coming on). Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, whole grains, fresh fruits, beans, lentils, and other legumes.
Fiber is typically broken down into two categories: those that are soluble in water, and those that aren’t. Soluble fibers attract water, forming a gel-like substance in the gut. This gel helps remove cholesterol and toxins and slows the process of digestion. Insoluble fiber simply creates bulk in the stool—making it softer and smoother, and helps scrub your intestines clean. Both soluble and insoluble are just as important.
Here are four key benefits that come from eating a fiber-rich diet.
· Fiber can lower your cholesterol. Gummy soluble fibers like psyllium and beta-glucan trap bad LDL cholesterol and flush it out of the body before they can be absorbed.
· Fiber improves gut health. Fermentable fiber like oat bran, bananas, and chickpeas are broken down into simple sugars that feed beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. (For more tips on what to nosh on, check out What to eat for a healthy gut.) Happy gut flora improves digestion and gut regularity—ahem, daily bowel movements. · Fiber regulates blood sugar. Viscous (soluble) fiber, such as the fiber in Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and oats gel up in the GI tract and slow the absorption of dietary sugar. This releases sugar into the bloodstream at a slower rate instead of all at once.
· Fiber reduces cancer risk. Eating fiber-rich foods like leafy greens and beans have showed to lower the risk of colorectal carcinoma (CRC)—the third most common cancer globally. People who had previous signs or diagnosis of CRC and who ate considerably more fiber showed impressive decreased risks, according to a 2020 review published in the journal Nutrients.
Fiber helps support your weight care by helping you feel full longer, and by decreasing insulin levels. Here’s how: When you eat fiber, your digestive system slows the rate of sugar, or glucose, absorption into your bloodstream. When we eat carbs, our body naturally converts what we eat into glucose. Then, our pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin is crucial in helping our bodies regulate blood sugar. Eating fiber-rich foods regulates our bodies, which supports weight loss and helps to prevent type 2 diabetes.
Eating viscous fiber like pectin and psyllium gives both the benefit of filling you up quickly and keeping you full longer (think honey versus water). The gel-like substance sits in your gut so you have the feeling of satiety. The gel slows the absorption of food in the gut, helping to reduce your appetite as your food takes longer to digest.
Another benefit of eating more fermentable fiber is to support healthy gut bacteria can also help decrease inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body. Inflammation can hinder weight loss by prompting insulin resistance, hurting the body’s ability to break fat down efficiently.
Figuring out how much fiber you need to eat in a day is a little tricky. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adults should eat 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories per day, or, about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men each day. But what you need exactly differs based on your energy levels and other factors. So it may help to ask your dietitian about your specific needs.
Once you’ve got that number, you’ll want to eat a variety of the foods that are high in fiber, such as beans and lentils, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables. One last tip: It’s important to gradually increase your fiber intake to avoid temporary-yet still uncomfortable-digestive issues. As you increase fiber, be sure to also up the amount of water you drink to avoid constipation.