Most people understand the importance of dietary fiber in their diet.
Much has been said about its importance in heart health, diabetes, cancer prevention, and even weight control.
What is less well understood is how different types of fiber affect the body. Some are absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream than others, and thus raise blood sugar levels more quickly, and yet others provide benefits to the heart.
Thus, despite the apparent simplicity, fiber is a complex topic. And while all types of fiber are essential, if you are looking at preventing or managing specific conditions, it’s not enough to just look at the total dietary fiber as written on food packaging.
Dietary fiber is broadly classified into the soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is fermented in the colon and plays a role in slowing the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. It also encourages the growth of the ‘friendly’ bacteria that help break down bile, and are involved in the creation of B vitamins like folic acid, niacin, and pyridoxine.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, acts a bit like an intestinal broom. It provides bulk to the stools and makes sure they pass through easily and quickly. This is the type of fiber that keeps you ‘regular,’ not insoluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber does provide a feeling of fullness, however. This makes it great for weight loss and controlling hunger. It also keeps blood sugar levels more stable, although research into the rate at which carbohydrates enter the bloodstream have found there to be some significant differences within the foods that make up the fiber group. Dietary fiber can thus be rated by its Glycemic Index, which effectively ranks fiber foods with each other on a relative scale.
The idea is to try and include more low glycemic index foods. Foods with a high glycemic index cause blood sugar levels to spike, providing too much energy to the blood in the form of carbohydrates, which in turn sets off the body’s sugar controlling hormone – insulin. You thus get a ‘high’ followed by a sudden drop. This, in turn, leads the body to want more carbohydrates to balance itself again, leading to cravings and overeating, as well as tiredness and moodiness.
Low-Glycemic foods include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Many vegetables, including leafy greens, asparagus, cauliflower
- Steel-cut oatmeal
- Legumes, including lentils, chickpeas
- Ezekiel bread
- Skim milk
- Reduced-fat yogurt
- Sesame seeds, peanuts, flax seeds
Fiber from dried fruit, nuts, and seeds (like sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds) was also linked to a lower waist to hip ratio, lower body fat, and a better fasting glucose concentration. Fasting glucose relates to having a steady level of glucose between meals. If it dips too low, we crave things, often sweets.
High-Glycemic Foods include:
- White potatoes
- Some fruits: bananas, grapes, cherries, watermelon
- Many breakfast cereals, including puffed rice and corn flakes
- Cookies and crackers
Fiber has another exciting benefit. In people with type 2 diabetes, it has been found to lower the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and increase the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol. It has already been established that fiber will reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in people, whether they have diabetes or not.
To get the full benefit of dietary fiber, it’s crucial to include low-glycemic foods into your diet every day.
Edna Cox Rice, Founder of Carolina Nutrition Consultants, is a well-known Nutrition and Fitness Expert in Lexington, SC. Edna shares reliable and practical advice on how to incorporate healthier food and smarter lifestyle choices for a healthier YOU.
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