Hello best health seekers!
A recent WHO study associates high intake of dietary fiber and whole grains with large reductions in risk for cardiovascular-related deaths and incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and colorectal cancer over those people who consume the least amount of fiber. Researchers also associated higher fiber intake with lower bodyweight and cholesterol. But what counts as fiber? Guess what, it shouldn’t come as a powder you scoop into your meal or glass despite what the food industry wants you to believe so you’ll buy their products. The best sources, according to researchers on the 40 year study, are whole foods. They should also be your diet, not your snack – so an apple a day isn’t going to cut it.
What are whole foods? These are fruits, vegetables, legumes, pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds that are lightly processed or not processed at all and do not include additives like preservatives, flavorings, emulsifiers, chemicals, conditioners, etc. Most everything on grocery store shelves these days is processed food, not a whole food. The exception? The fresh produce aisle and the sections where you can buy one ingredient items like beans, rice, barley, lentils, almonds and sunflower seeds.
Eating Ourselves Sick
American’s eat an “ultra-processed food” diet and our devastating health statistics are a result. According to Newsweek, over half the standard American diet can be bought at 7-Eleven. Ultra-processed foods include items such as candy, salty snacks, packaged sweets and baked goods like cakes and cookies, chicken and fish nuggets, and instant noodle soups. Flour, you might be surprised to learn, is a refined food product so anything that’s made from it is processed, including our beloved pastas, pizzas and breads. Sugar? Yep. Canned vegetables? Lightly processed and sometimes overly so. Your canned fruit certainly is seeing as how it’s packed in so much high fructose corn syrup and sugar.
That’s not food and it’s certainly not life-giving nutrition that provides high levels of protection against the diseases above. In fact, eating ultra-processed foods is associated with those very same diseases – chronic health conditions including diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke and cancer. By contrast, cultures that eat a whole foods-based diet regularly live into their 90s in good health. The Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Lima, California are well-known for their whole foods diet and they live 10 years longer than the average America. They must be doing something right and that something is how they eat.
If you’re eating whole foods, you’re eating fiber. If your diet is primarily whole foods, you naturally have a high intake of protective fiber. Most Americans eat less than 15 grams of fiber a day because 63% of our food is processed, with an additional 25% as meat, leaving very little left for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds. Only 12% of our diet is plant-based and half of that consists of french fries. Is it any wonder we’re sick?
The UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends at least 30 grams per day of fiber but this, according to researchers, is merely adequate. For big health benefits, including high levels of protection against cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, we need to be eating more than this.
Eating for Life
Since we need to be eating more than 29 grams to get more than an “adequate” amount of fiber, what does that equate to in terms of food? Most people think, “I’ll eat an apple and that will be my fiber component” but the truth is that an unpeeled apple only contains 4.5 grams of fiber. This is why we can’t just eat one or two healthy items a day and say we’re “eating healthy”. The Seventh Day of Loma Linda are eating healthy with pretty much every meal. That’s why they have such impressive longevity and low disease stats. They live a whole foods lifestyle and it’s what we should adopt if we want the same high levels of health and low levels of sickness.
Researchers say focus on replacing refined grains with whole grains, so trade your flour products for whole grains like rice, barley, oats, buckwheat – and don’t refine them by turning them into flours. There is an important reason for this. Fiber-rich foods like whole foods require chewing and keep most of their structure in the gut. This increases our levels of fullness and helps with weight control. It favorably influences lipid and glucose levels. Also, the fiber feeds the good bacteria in our large bowel which has wide-ranging benefits, including protection from colorectal cancer.
The High Fiber Foods You Should be Eating Daily
If you eat a diet that’s two-thirds or three-fourths whole foods, you’ll probably get plenty of fiber. Looking to see what foods bring the most bang per serving? Beans, pulses, seeds and nuts provide the highest level across categories. Here are some of the highest fiber-carrying whole foods. The following useful food chart come from the Mayo Clinic.
This is a good start, though I’d caution against the more refined items like oat bran muffins or whole wheat spaghetti (whole wheat is still a refined grain). Whole grains do not mean eating more bread, no matter the claims on the packaging. Just flip to the ingredient list and you’ll see how processed that “heart healthy” or “fiber rich” item is. Given the prevalence of gluten allergies and sensitivities, lower bread consumption is warranted (see my article What Happened When I Gave Up Bread to get a feel for the damage flour can do to you).
Don’t shop the bakery and bread aisle for nutrition poor “grains”. If you must have them, consider them a snack, not a main meal or side. Instead, focus on fresh, nutritious plant-based foods that come loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. Load up on the beans before grains, just take it slow so your body learns to adjust to the change! Do a search for high fiber foods and you’re certain to find foods that you’ll love. A favorite of mine are avocados. For a snack, I love dark chocolate (yes, it contains fiber!).
Why You Shouldn’t Be Using Powders, aka Fiber Supplements
We live busy lives and we love our convenience foods. However, just become it comes in a pill or powder and gets a “healthy” label stuck on its packaging doesn’t mean it’s actually doing us any good. As noted above, whole foods provide a plethora of benefits – satiety, nutrition for our good bacteria which do so much for our immune systems and more, vitamins and minerals, live enzymes, regulation of our hormones and moods, and more that scientists discover day after day.
You’re not going to get any of that from a powder. While fiber supplements are generally viewed as safe, they can cause abdominal bloating and gas, decrease the absorption of your medications and reduce blood sugar levels, which may require an adjustment in your medications or insulin if you have diabetes.
If you’re wanting to get healthy and protect yourself from a host of diseases, adopt a whole foods diet. If you do, remember that your body will need to adjust to the new foods if you’ve been double-fisting processed foods left and right. Your cravings and taste buds are probably set to those foods. So is your digestive system. Change can lead to withdrawal symptoms which can make you think it’s the healthy foods making you sick but really it’s the withdrawal talking. In relatively short time that eases.
Take up a 7 Day Challenge to up your nutrition and start or continue the road to health. Check out the 7 Day Pescatarian Challenge or the 7 Day Whole Foods Challenge. Get recipes and pantry recommendations, as well as more information about living the whole foods way. When you eat whole foods, you get more than fiber. You get whole nutrition. This is what protects us from disease and nourishes our body for health and vitality.
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