Not that you have to stock your refrigerator with wood chips, dump a gallon-size ziplock bag of flax seed on your morning cereal, or stroll around chewing on a crumpled wad of paper, but proper fiber intake *is* important – and offers free health benefits that shouldn’t be ignored. If you can decrease how much you spend on health care, increase the benefit of your exercise routine, and feel more energy and less stress, then you should take that extra step to hunt down some fiber! In case you want some pointers, at the end of this article, I’ll explain how I get mine.
Your Heart – increased fiber intake means decreased cardiovascular problems. A Harvard study found that for every 10 grams of fiber eaten daily, heart attack risk drops by 14 percent, and the chance of dying from other cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes, decreases by 27 percent. To give you an idea of what 10 grams of fiber actually is, think 1 apple and 1 banana. While it is recommended that we consume over 20 grams of fiber per day, the typical Western diet usually offers about 15 grams. In comparison, countries with a lower rate of heart disease actually can average over 100 grams of fiber per day (not recommended unless you really enjoy your bathroom)!
Your Blood Pressure – Hypertension is a big problem, especially with the amount of stress most individuals experience in a hectic daily routine. Soluble fiber, which is the type of fiber that partially dissolves in water and forms a gel in your digestive tract, slows the rate of digestion and absorption. Since food is digested more slowly, the pancreatic release of insulin occurs more slowly. If you read my article on the health risks of sugar, you learned that sugar results in an enormous and quick release of insulin, which can increase blood sugar! In slowing this process, fiber assists in controlling blood pressure. More specifically, fiber lowers the systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure exerted as your heart beats. Since high blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, adequate consumption of fiber can help your heart live longer and healthier!
Your Waistline – Soluble fiber also binds to “bile acids” and removes them from the small intestine. Since bile acids aid in fat digestion, this means that your body is less likely to absorb and use fat, and more likely to simply pass it through. Since bile acids also transport cholesterol, reduced bile acids in the small intestine results in lower cholesterol! Since soluble fiber also regulates blood sugar levels and controls insulin levels, it assists in maintaining a high metabolism and a greater utilization of fatty acids as a fuel. Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water (i.e. roughage), increases the bulk in your gut. As a result, digested food sits for a shorter period of time in the intestine, and less starches and sugars are absorbed into the body. You also feel fuller faster! But while increased fiber intake can greatly assist in weight control, be warned that too much fiber intake will result in inadequate nutrient absorption – which can decrease energy levels and lower the metabolism. So hold back on munching down that giant bag of spinach, and space your fiber out evenly throughout the day.
Your Colon – Let’s face it: many of the foods that we consume contain carcinogens and toxins, whether from processing chemicals, pesticides, or cooking. These potential cancer causing agents, especially when consumed in high concentrations, can remain in contact with the colon wall for long periods of time. A high fiber diet will not only reduce colonic pressure by reducing constipation, but will also produce a large and bulky stool that passes through the bowel more quickly. That means less exposure to toxins, lower risk of pressure related health problems like diverticulitis, and decreased risk of colon cancer.
Your Diabetes Risk – I’ve already explained how a high-fiber diet reduces that absorption of glucose into the blood, thus slowing the insulin response and stabilizing the blood sugar levels. This reduces stress on the pancreas, and lowers the risk of developing insulin resistance, which is one of the chronic problems that can arise with “roller-coaster” blood sugar levels. This decreases your chance of developing diabetes, which can occur when the body becomes resistant to insulin due to constantly fluctuating levels. As a bonus, whole grains (a big source of fiber) contain magnesium, which can also control the body’s glucose and insulin response.
So how do you ensure that you’re taking advantage of these health benefits by consuming sufficient fiber? Here’s my strategy: a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, consumed with sliced fruit, like apples or strawberries; a large salad for lunch or in the afternoon, usually with 3-4 different types of vegetables or fruits, like carrots, alfalfa sprouts, diced cucumbers, tomatoes or pears; one handful of whole, raw almonds every day as a snack; and one large serving of vegetables with dinner, such as sauteed asparagus, a handful of mini carrots, or a bowl of steamed broccoli.
Greenfield Fitness Systems offers a nutritional analysis for just $49.95 (less than that if you take advantage of this newsletter issue’s 10% coupon!). If you would like your diet analyzed for proper fiber intake, as well as nutrient balance, proper carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake, stabilized blood sugar levels, and other important factors, visit http://www.pacificfit.net, and order a nutritional evaluation. You’ll be provided with a detailed dietary log and instructions for completing your evaluation. The impact of diet on performance, weight control, and health can parallel or even surpass the benefits of an exercise program, so this evaluation can make a huge difference.
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Until next time, train smart!