Is Fiber the Missing Piece of Your Healthy Diet?
February 11, 2019
Until 8th grade I ate whatever was in the kitchen cabinet. I had no idea that the two bowls of Fruit Loops or Cap’n Crunch and the tasty cup of “cereal milk” they left behind (the dessert of breakfast!) wasn’t a healthy way to start the day. When a boy in my science class said to me, “You know, you’d be kind of a pretty girl if you lost some weight,” I was stunned. Although it was unkind and hurtful, it prompted me to take a closer look at my diet.
My friend Nancy and I went on a diet we’d found in a book. By 9th grade I’d lost nearly 30 pounds and was exercising, playing sports and eating what I thought was a better diet: canned tuna, eggs, salads, using only two slices of deli meat, switching to whole wheat bread, and not eating candy… That was all it took for me to drop a pile of excess weight and transform my body. It didn’t stop me from being bullied, but I felt better about myself.
I’ve learned a lot in the three decades since then, and some of that food is full of stuff I wouldn’t eat today. The past year I’ve spent hours reading books, watching nutrition documentaries and researching. What I found has left me frustrated and confused, but I’m still filled with curiosity.
Diet vs Nutrition
These days, I don’t diet or count calories. I know what quality food is and I eat only that. You want to put in your body things that have nutrients to sustain your overall health and well-being. Two years ago, I took dairy, soy, and gluten out of my diet and I’ve never felt better. The only thing is, I occasionally have a challenge getting enough fiber: many gluten-free foods are made with starches and refined flours that are low in fiber—like tapioca, corn, potato starch, or white rice flour.
Fiber is found only in plant-based foods and refers to the part of food that cannot be digested by the body. There are two categories of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Although different foods contain primarily one type of fiber or the other, most plant-based foods contain a mixture of both. It is important to include a variety of fiber sources in the diet.
Types of Fiber
Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber absorbs water as it goes through the gastrointestinal tract, which increases stool bulk and promotes bowel regularity. Insoluble fiber sources include vegetables and gluten-free whole grains.
Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance which is involved in lowering cholesterol levels. Legumes and fruits are sources of soluble fiber.
“High-fiber foods keep bowel movements regular, help feed gut bacteria, improve overall digestion, and are low calorie which helps with weight maintenance,” says my friend Laura Halper, founder of So Simple Nutrition.
Here are some great options for high-fiber food:
- Fruits such as bananas, oranges, apples, and berries
- Vegetables – the darker, the better
- Beans, legumes, seeds, and nuts
- Breads and grains
How to transform your diet
Start by adding things you know are high in nutrients, like dark greens. Halper says that if you are following a grain-free, gluten-free diet, her top three high-fiber food picks are:
1. Flax seeds
2. Leafy greens (collards, kale)
3. Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts)
“The greens are great because they deliver lots of other nutrients like B vitamins, folate, and vitamin K. They’re easy to incorporate into salads or stir fries too,” says Halper. “I love flax seeds because they’re easy to incorporate into smoothies by grinding them up, into paleo baked goods, and as crackers from the brand Flackers.”
So if one of your New Year’s Resolutions was to improve your diet, consider making these simple food additions to make your food choices even healthier.
Sue Hitzmann is the creator of the MELT Method®, a simple self-treatment technique that helps people get out and stay out of chronic pain. A nationally recognized educator, manual therapist, exercise physiologist, and founding member of the Fascia Research Society, Sue is the author of the New York Times bestselling book The MELT Method, which has been translated into eight languages and helped over 200,000 people lead a healthy, pain-free life.