How to Use Fiber to Improve Your Health

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We hear so much about fiber and its effects on our general health, digestion and keeping our bowels healthy. What we don’t hear too much about are the ways that fiber can improve our health in other aspects like reducing fat gain and regulating appetite. To me this is a hugely interesting topic as there seem to be certain types of fiber that can accelerate fat loss, stop fat gain and even lowering our body weight set point while improving our satiety when eating.

Fiber is pretty much indigestible starch, it is a form of carbohydrate that our bodies cannot break down. Therefore it passes through our digestive tract without being absorbed by the body and used as energy. Foods rich in fiber are things like:

  • Pulses and Legumes
  • Unprocessed Grains
  • Fruit and Vegetables

And the things with little or no fiber are meat and fat based products. This post is not another call to eat high fiber foods to gain the conventional benefits that I am sure you have all read about before, but rather to show some of the different ways you can use the unique sources of fiber that nature provides for sustainable health benefits……

So how can we use fiber to our benefit and which types of fiber should we be aiming to eat on a regular basis to gain these benefits?

Resistant Starch - This is the first thing that I came across when reading about this topic and by far the most interesting. Resistant starch is basically another soluble fiber, but the interesting thing is that their are 4 levels of this type of fiber and each one provides a different benefit.

The most interesting of the bunch is what is called Resistant Starch Type 3 which was coined to describe starchy foods which need to be cooked to be edible to humans (legumes, grains, potatoes etc..) the secret to this type of resistant starch is the benefit when cooled down as the properties change and the benefits are amplified. The unique undigestible element in these foods has been shown in numerous studies to:

  • Lower our body weight set point
  • Improve blood glucose management
  • Improve energy
  • Benefit digestive health

These are some pretty astounding benefits from simply eating whole unprocessed carbohydrates and goes to show why ancient cultures thrived eating these foods regularly. It even leads towards why one of the leading causes of bad health and obesity around the world is probably due to the rising consumption of processed grains and other carbohydrates that have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients – Therefore stripping people of the benefits mentioned above, which could go a long way to improving health and stopping excess weight gain.

Oligo-Fructose - This weird sounding fiber is a slightly different animal to resistant starch in that it is found in other foods and works slightly differently all be it to give simular benefits. Oligo-Fructose is coined as a “pre-biotic” which Unlike “pro-biotics” (the live‘ bacteria products which add healthy flora to the gut) prebiotics actually feed the ‘good’ bacteria in the digestive tract, giving them something to multiply and grow with.

These to improve the guts general health. It has been shown that regular consumption of oligofructose whether from supplementation or diet works towards fat loss without any other changes in diet. It seems to work by improving out guts health which also leads to better glucose tolerance and satiety when eating. These will leads to a natural desire to eat less food.

Pectin - Apple pectin is the best source and one of the main reasons I recommend an apple a day. Pectin is a sort of soluble fiber which works in simular way to the two fibers mentioned above, it is the reason apple’s make for such a satisfying snack and can provide fullness and satiety for hours. Apple pectin is contained in the skin of the apple (so no peeling) and works to create a gel like substance in our guts which is not only soothing to the gut lining but provides benefits again in blood glucose management.

Using this knowledge to our benefit….

So the big question is how exactly can we best apply this theory to practice? Well thankfully the answer is pretty simple, in that we should get the vast majority of our carbohydrates from unprocessed, unrefined foods which will supply resistant starch and pre-biotics in abundance. Another option is to buy some oligofructose powder which is pretty cheap and actually tastes pretty nice and sweet. This can be sprinkled on foods or into things like soup to get the benefits (don’t use too much though as it has the tendency to cause gas when used in excess)

Apart from supplements the foods you should focus on are the following:

  • Potatoes (Especially when cooled)
  • Beans and Lentils
  • Brown Rice
  • Bananas which are not overly ripened (more resistant starch)
  • Apples
  • Artichokes
  • Chicory root
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Jicama

These foods contain resistant starch, oligofructose and pectin. To get the most benefits of resistant starch try to eat a few meals a week which consist of root vegetables or legumes which have been cooled to room temperature. Cooking things like potato salad or lentil salads, this allows the starch to reach its most effective stage and provide the most benefits compared to when these foods are hot.

There you have it, another piece of nutrition knowledge to use in your quest to improved health and vitality…….

If you enjoyed this article, please checkout my book A Simple Guide to Eating Well and you also can follow me on Twitter.

Comments

  1. says

    Sweet post Chris. You beat me to it – I hope to write a good and more specific follow-up on resistant starch sometime in the next week.

    It’s a really fascinating topic because guys like Denis Burkitt and Hugh Trowell KNEW that fiber was protective, and that refined, fiber-stripped carbohydrates were for some reason a major health liability, but they could only hypothesize as to why. Their primary explanation was that fiber provided “bulk” that helped digestion and was “filling” and reduced appetite.

    They were majorly wrong on both accounts. Fiber, and resistant starch even more so, appear to affect appetite and digestion, in large part because of the action it exerts on metabolism.

    @ Matt: Yeah it is a fascinating topic, there is so much to be uncovered about it. It is almost like resistant starch and oligofructose are some kind of nutrient with a unique benefit. Looking forward to your post, it will be fascinating to see a more in-depth view point on these fibers….

  2. says

    Great topic. I have to admit I went through a period (after hearing about The Fiber Menace) that I completely rebelled against the idea that fiber had anything beneficial to offer. However, I’m trying to be more humble in my nutritional pursuits, and after some research I think that fiber definitely has its place in a wholesome diet. But I still balk at the idea of anyone swallowing psyllium drinks every morning and night! That’s just not natural.

    @ Elizabeth: Psylium husk is some weird stuff, I think it tends to have a reverse effect and actually ends up damaging the gut. That stuff really is a fiber menace…. As you say fiber definitely has its place in a wholesome diet but it should be fiber that comes with a good diet rather than striving to add extra fiber to our diet. Maybe it comes down to quality over quantity in terms of fiber……

  3. says

    This post is fascinating! I’d never heard of resistant starches or pre-biotics. I’m also very interested in the idea of letting the food cool for the most benefit. Thanks for the information!

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