Fiber – the other carbohydrate

Increasing fiber in your diet can reduce your risk of chronic disease.

“Reduce food intake and increase physical activity to lose weight.” “Calories in, calories out.” These are commonly used phrases today. While these are great steps toward balancing calorie intake and reducing weight, unfortunately they don’t always work. It turns out that many people consume so much fructose and sucrose (sugar) in their diets, that increasing activity and decreasing calories won’t lead to weight loss. Increasing soluble fiber, however, can help end this dizzying cycle.

Fiber, like sugar is a carbohydrate, but unlike sugar, it is indigestible. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Most often, fiber is thought of as a nutrient that prevents constipation, which is true of both types, but mostly the insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber attracts water and forms a gel during digestion, which slows digestion. Soluble fiber also does three very important things in our bodies that may help reduce weight gain. Two studies from the United Kingdom and Sweden show that one major benefit of soluble fiber is that it causes the body to become satiated more quickly. What this means is that when you’re eating foods high in soluble fiber, your brain will get a message that you are “full” sooner than if you were eating foods with no soluble fiber. In turn, you’ll eat smaller portions. The Swedish study also found that soluble fiber suppresses insulin production, thus controlling blood sugar and the chance of gaining weight. Finally, soluble fiber reduces carbohydrate absorption in the intestines, therefore lowering the amount of sugars being taken into your body and reducing the sugar burden on your liver.

No matter how you look at it, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet is a positive thing, especially soluble fiber. Where does soluble fiber come from? Most fruits and vegetables are packed with soluble (and insoluble) fiber. Eating an actual apple is much healthier than consuming 100 percent apple juice – you’re getting the fiber that will help reduce the amount of sugar your body absorbs from the apple. Grains like barley and oats also contain high amounts of soluble fiber. Legumes, like black beans and kidney beans, pack the most soluble fiber in just a 1/2 cup serving. Michigan State University Extension recommends increasing the amount of soluble fiber in your diet to help fight weight gain and chronic disease. Making half of your plate fruits and vegetables, and substituting legumes in place of meat at least once a week will help achieve this goal.

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