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“When we fret about the deterioration of the American diet, we tend to focus on the excessive amounts of sugar, salt, and calories we’re now eating.
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Fiber. Only 5 percent of people in the US meet the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily target of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. That amounts to a population-wide deficiency — what nutritionists call the “fiber gap.”
“People are so busy avoiding carbs, they forget that these foods give [them] important dietary components,” said nutritionist Julie Jones, of St. Catherine University.
Fiber is the closest thing we have to a true superfood — or super-nutrient since it’s a part of so many different foods. Eating a fiber-rich diet is associated with better gastrointestinal health and a reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, high cholesterol, obesity, type 2 diabetes, even some cancers. That’s because fiber is amazingly helpful in many ways: It slows the absorption of glucose — which evens out our blood sugar levels — and also lowers cholesterol and inflammation.
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These benefits grow the more fiber people eat. In a recent Lancet review of 185 studies and 58 clinical trials, researchers found that if 1,000 people transitioned from a low-fiber diet (under 15 grams per day) to a high-fiber diet (25 to 29 grams per day), they’d prevent 13 deaths and six cases of heart disease.
If fiber were a drug, we’d be all over it. But the average American gets just 16 grams per day — half of what we should be eating.
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A big reason for that has to do with what we now eat. Instead of munching on fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds, more than half of the calories Americans consume come from ultra-processed foods. On any given day, nearly 40 percent of Americans eat fast food. These prepared and processed meals tend to be low in fiber, or even fiber free. (A cup of cooked oatmeal has 4 grams of fiber and a pear has 6 grams, while a McDonald’s hamburger has one gram and soda has none.)
This pattern of eating is not just leading to weight gain and obesity-related health issues; it’s hurting our gastrointestinal health in ways researchers are only beginning to understand. That’s because fiber’s benefits are a lot more complicated than our prune-peddling moms and grandmothers appreciated.
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Fiber doesn’t just help us poop better — it also nourishes our gut microbiome. The science, while still pretty nascent, is fascinating and it points to the fact that the fiber gap may be even more damaging than we’ve realized.
There are many different types of fiber — and they do different things in our guts
To think of fiber as just Metamucil and bran cereal is to do its complexity a disservice.
Fiber (or “fibers,” as the researchers who study it say) is a group of different kinds of plant-based carbohydrates that affect our gastrointestinal tract in myriad ways. The big difference between fiber and other carbs, like starches and sugar, is that we can’t directly digest or absorb it. And some fiber types can only be broken down by the gut microbiome, the ecology of trillions of diverse bacteria lining our intestines and colon.
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Scientists have learned over the years that fiber can be soluble (meaning it dissolves in water), viscose (gel-forming), or fermentable (bacteria can metabolize it) — and they’re just beginning to understand how these different fiber types interact with our gastrointestinal tract and affect our health.
Take cellulose, a type of fiber in fruits and vegetables: it’s insoluble and it’s not fermentable. Hemicellulose, found in bran, can’t be dissolved in water and it’s not gel-forming (viscous) but it is fermentable. Psyllium, in Metamucil, is water soluble, gel-forming and less fermentable than other fibers. There’s also another class, known as “functional fiber”: industrially processed but natural fibers (such as inulin or fructan) and synthetic fibers (such as polycarbophil), all of which can be added to foods and supplements.
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Understanding this variety is relevant to our health because different fibers have different health effects on our gastrointestinal tract, said William Chey, a professor of gastroenterology and nutrition at the University of Michigan. Gel-forming fibers like psyllium, for example, hold on to water. So if your stool is hard, they can help soften it, Chey said. “If your stool is too loose, the water-absorbing capacity can add form.”
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Fermentability is also important, he explained, because it reflects whether the gut microbiome views fiber as a food source or not. Fermentable fibers can exacerbate gas and bloating, so people who experience those symptoms might want to adjust their intake. Researchers have demonstrated that a low FODMAP diet — which limits fermentable foods, including fibers such as fructan — can alleviate irritable bowel syndrome.
“Most doctors and people think all fiber is created equal,” Chey added. “But different types of fiber have different properties in the gut, especially as it pertains to the microbiome.”
Most humans have evolved to eat lots of fiber
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The second thing to know about fiber is that humans evolved to eat it — a lot of it. Long before we learned to cook, domesticate animals, and put McDonald’s on every corner, our evolutionary cousins — such as chimps and bonobos — followed frugivore diets, subsisting mainly on fiber-heavy fruits, roots, shoots, nuts, and seeds. There’s also ample evidence that early humans went to great lengths to eat fiber-rich carbohydrates, such as oats and acorns.
Today, studies of Tanzania’s Hadza people, one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer groups on the planet, are a useful model for understanding just how much fiber early humans probably ate. Tribe members consume 100 to 150 fiber grams per day — enough to fill some 50 bowls of Cheerios, and 10 times what Americans take in, as NPR reported. Their daily diet is rich in roughage — tubers, berries, baobab fruits — and the Hadza people don’t eat any ultra-processed foods.
Researchers who study the health effects of fiber, including Jens Walter at the University of Alberta, say the Hadza’s enthusiasm for roughage should remind us of how much the human diet has shifted away from fiber.”
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Read More … Article Source: https://www.vox.com/2019/3/20/18214505/fiber-diet-weight-loss
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