Carbohydrates get a bad rap, but this macronutrient can actually do a whole lot of good. There is a carbohydrate out there that can aid in stabilizing your blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels, and even feed the good bacteria in your gut.
What carbohydrate out there is responsible for all these good deeds? That would be dietary fiber! I have much excitement for this seemingly drab component of nutrition. It can do so much for us, but we simply do not get enough. We all but cast it out of our diets if we turn to processed foods for the bulk of our daily meals. The more whole (intact / unprocessed) our food is, the more dietary fiber it is likely to have.
What is dietary fiber? This is the indigestible portion of grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. Fiber is either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance and swells when it comes into contact with water as is moves through you. Insoluble fiber does not absorb water and also passes through your system intact.
Soluble fiber keeps beneficial bacteria fed so they can continue multiplying and doing their job.
You may wonder why we need fiber if we cannot even digest it. We may not be able process fiber, but the beneficial bacteria in our gut cannot live without it. Feeding these gut bugs and keeping them flourishing is necessary for over all health. Macrobiotics control the functions in our gut. They help our body digest and absorb nutrients, keep out dangers like influenza and toxic cancer-forming carcinogens, and send signals to the brain that help regulate our metabolism.
Soluble fiber help regulate your LDL cholesterol levels by both removing them from your digestive track, and by also causing a reaction that leads to LDL being removed from your bloodstream.
Soluble fiber is not only good for the gut but it is heart healthy as well. Soluble fiber’s gel-like coating binds with LDL cholesterol (that is the bad kind) particles as it passes through your system. The dietary cholesterol in your digestive system is shuttled out before you can absorb it. Another way soluble fiber helps keep your cholesterol levels healthy is by prompting the liver to create more bile salts. Soluble fiber interferes with absorption of bile in the intestines. The unabsorbed bile is then excreted along with bodily waste. To replenish the lost bile, the liver has to create new bile salts. The liver uses LDL cholesterol in the production of bile salts so it pulls LDL molecules away from your bloodstream.
Fiber has sugar blocking effects.
Much like the way soluble fiber affects your body’s absorption of LDL cholesterol, it also slows its absorption of glucose which keeps your insulin levels steady. If your blood sugar levels do not rise, then neither will your insulin levels rise. Spikes in your insulin levels can lead to weight gain and serious health risks. All fruits and vegetables contain sugar, when consumed whole however, you are taking in more soluble fiber than sugar. Grain products contain some fiber as well so whole grains are superior to refined grained. It is still a great idea to pair starches (even if they come from whole sources) with a salad so you can add more fiber and have a better sugar-blocking effect.
Fiber can seem pretty boring if all you think it does is make you feel full and cause you to frequently visit the restroom. Now that you know the power of roughage, you can join me in my excitement for dietary fiber! Click here for a list of fiber rich foods – especially those rich with soluble fiber.