“Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…” We’ve all been here before: it’s 3 in the afternoon, you just finished eating lunch an hour ago, and you’re already starving. You stare at the clock, counting the minutes until you get to eat again, “Only 2 more hours and 53 minutes until dinner time.” What a terrible way to live, right?
Fat-loss is difficult, and there will inevitably be times during your diet where you find yourself in a similar situation to the one above, however minimizing the number of times we find ourselves here, and the length of time we spend here, is critical. Not only is this critical for maintaining your sanity, a productive work day, healthy relationships with family and friends, and overall well-being, but reducing the frequency of the above scenario also increases the likelihood that you will be successful in achieving your fat-loss goals.
So how do we do it? How do we keep ourselves feeling full and satiated between meals, while also preventing the “over-stuffing” effect of eating too many low-calorie, voluminous foods, which can lead to other, almost equally uncomfortable negative physical side-effects, such as: gassiness, bloating, constipation, etc.? This leads us to the topic of today’s article, balancing fiber types. Now let’s get into it…
NOT ALL FIBER IS CREATED EQUAL
A commonly held belief, is that all fiber is the same, that “fiber is fiber”, and that it all functions the same way once it enters the body. Not only is this not the case, but depending on the type of fiber you consume, it can have completely opposite effects within the body.
There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. It’s the balancing of these two, which allow us to stay full and satiated between meals, while also keeping our digestive system moving at a healthy rate. A brief explanation of each type, and where to find it, will help guide you on how to strategically use fiber as a “tool” to aid in your fat-loss success.
Soluble fiber, as the same suggests, is soluble in water. When soluble fiber is combined with water, it forms a thick, “Jello-like” substance, that slows down the digestion and absorption of food, and delays the rate at which the stomach empties into the small intestine, therefore helping you to feel fuller for a longer length of time after finishing a meal. Because it slows down absorption, this in-turn slows down the rate at which carbohydrates get absorbed and find their way into the blood stream, giving you better controlled blood sugar levels, to help prevent “crashing”, and the subsequent feelings of tiredness, and the craving of more carbohydrates.
Soluble fiber also acts as a prebiotic, a type of “food” for the healthy bacteria within your digestive system, helping to nourish and support their growth. A commonly purported statement is that fiber does not contain calories, and therefore can be eaten in unlimited amounts without affecting one’s caloric balance. Although soluble fiber does not directly contribute calories to the human body, because it serves as a source of nourishment for the microorganisms within our gut, these microorganisms actually ferment certain types of fiber into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which can then be absorbed into the blood stream, and subsequently contribute energy (calories) to our daily total. Depending on the type of soluble fiber, it can contribute anywhere between 1 to 3 calories per gram, in the form of these SCFAs (A normal gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram).
Sources: Barley, oats, oatmeal, oat bran, legumes (dried beans, peas, or lentils), vegetables (cucumbers, carrots, celery), nuts, psyllium, flaxseed, and fruits (apples, oranges, blueberries, peas).
Note: Many whole-foods contain a blend of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
So just by looking at a few of these basic functions of soluble fiber, we can see where it’s overconsumption could cause problems. Because soluble fiber slows down the digestive system, consuming excessive amounts can cause us to feel bloated, constipated and gassy. It can also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb various vitamins and minerals, and can contribute additional calories to our total daily intake.
Insoluble fiber (aka Roughage), like its name implies, is not soluble in water. Because of this, it does not form a “Jello-like” substance, and actually works to speed up the digestive system, having a natural laxative effect. It works kind of like a broom, helping to “push” everything through your digestive system, working to clean it out. Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber can not be fermented by the microorganisms within your colon, and therefore does not contribute additional calories in the form of SCFAs.
Sources: Wheat bran, corn bran, whole-grains (brown rice, barley, etc.), seeds and nuts, cabbage, broccoli, the skins of fruits and vegetables, and dark green vegetables.
Note: Many fruits, vegetables and whole-grains contain both types of fiber.
As we can see, both types of fiber are very beneficial for not only weight-loss (One helps to keep us full, while the other helps to “keep things moving”), but also for our overall health. We can also see how too much of one of these, without enough of the other, could cause problems in the forms of: not curbing our appetite enough (Not enough soluble fiber), causing constipation (Too much soluble fiber, and/or not enough insoluble fiber), and so on. Not only can having an imbalanced ratio between the two types have ill effects, but having too much total fiber in general can also result in negative physical side-effects. So how do we do it? How do we find a proper balance between the two types, while also making sure we get enough total fiber, without getting too much?
The best place to start in terms of determining how much fiber you should consume, is to look at your current fiber intake. How much are you currently consuming? Are you staying satiated between meals, or are you getting hungry again very quickly? Are you experiencing any of the negative symptoms we mentioned earlier? If anything is out of whack, look at which fiber type causes that negative side-effect when consumed in too little or too high of an amount, then adjust accordingly by trying to incorporate more of the lacking fiber type, decreasing the overly consumed type, or increasing/decreasing total fiber intake in general.
As a rough guideline, the American Dietetic Association’s position statement on fiber intake is: 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed, or 25 grams/day for women and 38 grams/day for men.
This is just a rough guideline and will vary from person to person, but it gives us a good place to start. If you are someone who is currently under-eating fiber, and feel you need to increase your consumption, do so slowly. You don’t want to go from consuming 10 grams per day, straight to consuming 30 grams/day, as this could cause some of those negative unwanted side-effects we talked about. Add fiber in slowly (5 to 7 grams at a time, giving your body time to acclimate, and seeing how it responds).
One of the easiest ways to ensure you consume a proper ratio of soluble and insoluble fiber, is to consume a majority of your dietary fiber through whole-food sources. The problems that arise from unproportionate ratios, often tend to be the result of consuming too many fiber-containing dietary supplements (Meal replacement shakes, protein bars, etc.). This is because a majority of dietary supplements use isolated sources of soluble fiber in their products, with very little, if any, insoluble fiber. The incorporation of some fiber-containing dietary supplements is okay, however if you’re someone who is experiencing negative gastrointestinal discomfort, and you eat a lot of fiber containing supplements, you may want to try decreasing your intake to see if this helps.
I hope you enjoyed this article. If there is any specific nutrition related topic you’d like me to cover in next month’s article, feel free to leave it in the comments section below.
Association, American Dietetic. “Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2008): n. pag. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.