Fiber: The New Fat Fighter
How Fiber Works
A few years ago, it was the f-word that no one wanted to use. Today, it's plastered all over packages at the supermarket. (That's fiber, people, fiber.) Last year, manufacturers introduced more than 1,500 high-fiber, whole-grain products -- an increase of 121 percent since 2005. Now we have high-fiber English muffins and even whole-bean chocolate bars.
Nutritionists' early attempts to get Americans to embrace fiber flopped. But since then, the f-stuff has gotten some serious science behind it. Studies peg foods rich in fiber to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer -- and to losing weight without feeling hungry. For instance, researchers at Harvard Medical School found that women who increased their intake of high-fiber or whole-grain foods over a 12-year period were half as likely to become obese as those who decreased their consumption.So How Does Fiber Work, Anyway?
Basically, it's the part of plant foods -- vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, legumes, and seeds -- that your body can't digest. There are two types of fiber: insoluble, which helps food pass through your digestive system, and soluble, which helps eliminate fat and lower cholesterol. Thanks to soluble fiber, sugars and fats enter your bloodstream at a slower rate, giving you a steady supply of energy. "When you eat foods that lack fiber, your blood sugar can spike quickly. Then it crashes, causing hunger and overeating," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The F-Factor Diet.
The more fiber a food has, the better. "Fiber-packed products tend to be low-cal, so you can eat a lot," Zuckerbrot says. "Fiber makes you full, because it swells in your stomach when it absorbs liquid."
Fiber is also a heart hero: It helps to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and it increases blood flow. Soluble fiber's effect on cholesterol is so potent that the FDA allows companies to advertise this fact on products like oatmeal. The nutrient may also reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester found that people with the highest fiber intake were 63 percent less likely to have elevated levels of CRP than people who followed lower-fiber diets.Why You Need More Fiber
Most of us aren't getting enough. The average American woman consumes about 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day -- about half of what's needed to meet the basic recommendation of 25 grams. And experts say that more is even better -- about 30 to 40 grams a day, according to David L. Katz, MD, MPH, an associate professor adjunct of public health and director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. Check out the chart below to learn how to fight hunger and up your intake without upsetting your system.
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