Fiber: The Healthy Carb

Posted: Jun 08, 2016 9:00 AM
If you're trying to lose weight, welcome to the United Nations International Year of Pulses. Dr. Connealy ... the what? The UN, among its many humanitarian concerns, wants everyone to eat for good health—which means maximum nutrition
and healthy weight. And there's no simpler, more affordable way to do that than to eat sufficient amounts of beans and legumes, which the rest of the world calls pulses. Why do they deserve their own special year?

It's all about the fiber

In December 2015, a study of 427,000 people trying to lose weight shined a bright light on fiber's super-slimming powers. When all the data were in, it focused on those who were most successful, that is, who came within five percent of their target weight. And it asked, simply, why? They consumed fewer carbs? Less sugar? Less fat? No. Compared to the less successful folks, the five-percenters were pretty much the same when it came to amounts of calories, protein, fat, and carbs. There was only one significant difference. They ate 29 percent more fiber. Think about it. Famous brand-name diets micromanage your every bite, every day, with limited success. Meanwhile, you can just eat more beans and other fiber-rich foods with significantly more success. Fiber: the ins and outs Fiber is a carbohydrate, like the starch and sugar that come from plants. However, we can't digest it or break it down into nutrients, like other foods—we lack the specialized enzymes to do the job. If that sounds like a deficiency, it isn't at all. It's the key to fiber's weight management, and other important, powers. Fiber comes in two forms—each with its own special benefits.
Soluble fiber mixes with water and the digestive enzymes made by your liver to create a gel. That gooey, gluey stuff in your bowl of oatmeal? That's soluble fiber—which very selectively soaks up bad cholesterol as it travels through your digestive tract and escorts it out of our bodies, along with various toxins, excess hormones, and other waste matter. It also slows the absorption of sugar, making it a critical ally in preventing the blood sugar spikes that are linked to type 2 diabetes. All of which are excellent reasons to accept the UN's recommendation to make beans, brown rice, barley, peas, lentils, oats, bran, pears, citrus fruits, and apples an important part of your diet. Insoluble fiber is what folks used to call “roughage.” Its specialty? Soaking up water and gently swelling up inside your intestines, speeding your digestive processes through your entire gastrointestinal tract by making digestion byproducts larger and less firm. And while it's busy doing its cleansing work, to help keep you regular and prevent constipation, it's also creating a feeling of satisfied fullness, which curbs your appetite for more food and more calories. Think of it as eating a scrubbing sponge, only tastier. OK, maybe not my best analogy, but let's give it up for bran cereal, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, all great sources of insoluble fiber.

It's not just about losing weight

All types of fiber have earned star ratings by helping manage, reverse, or prevent the usual list of terrible health outcomes—cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disease, poor sleep, cancer, chronic inflammation, etc. Fiber is also strongly linked to a reduced risk of gall stones, kidney stones, diverticular diseases, and more. It's also a favorite nutrient for the trillions of good bacteria (probiotics) in our gut. Keeping them well fed and fully functional is an absolutely essential—if not the essential—pillar of good health. But don't just rush out and eat a basket full of fiber-rich foods.

Climb the fiber ladder slowly

A nutritionist I respect recommends creating a fiber consumption baseline—an estimate of your grams of fiber consumed per day—then adding an additional 3–5 grams of fiber per day. That's just one extra serving of veggies or one extra piece of fruit. Several online sources give you grams of fiber per ounce of food. When you're averaging 25–35 grams of fiber per day, stay at that level. The average America consumes only 10.5 grams of fiber daily, so be sure to get there slowly. A significant, sudden change in any behavior can have unwanted results. In this case, overloading fiber can cause bloating, constipation, gas, cramping, and all of the above. And let your doctor know your intention. He or she can help you navigate the dietary changes, and it might be an opportunity to also adjust some other dietary behaviors.


  • United Nations 2016 International Year of Pulses.
  • "Types of Fiber and Their Health Benefits."
  • hello healthy. "How to Eat Like a Successful MyFitnessPal User."
  • International Food Information Council. "Fiber Fact Sheet: Bottom Line"
  • "What is Fiber and How Does It Work?"