Ever since your doctor told you to start eating more fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (beans, split peas, chick peas, and lentils), you switched to eating whole wheat bread. You congratulated yourself on trading in (reluctantly) your soft white “wonder” for a 21-grain brick, but your new kind of loaf may not be as healthy and whole as you might think.
Why You Need More Dietary Fiber
There is accumulating evidence that eating more dietary fiber reduces your risk for:
• Type 2 diabetes
• Cardiovascular disease
• Certain cancers
• Weight gain
• Diverticular disease
• Functional constipation
According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, as your fiber intake goes up, your risk of metabolic syndrome goes down resulting in less inflammation and a drop in obesity risk. It was concluded that greater dietary fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease. (See ‘”Inflammation / Foods that Heal and Harm“)
It’s no surprise that another study concluded that for every additional 7 grams of fiber consumed, heart disease risk decreased by 9%. Seven grams of fiber really doesn’t equate to that much food. You can get 7 grams through a serving of whole grains plus beans or lentils (e.g., rice and beans), or a few servings of fruits and vegetables.
How Dietary Fiber Benefits Your Heart
The cardiovascular benefits of dietary fiber include:
- Helps get rid of excess bile (reduces LDL “bad” cholesterol)
- Reduces cholesterol production
- Feeds our “good” bacteria
- Changes our gut hormones
- Promotes eating low-calorie-density foods
- Increases satiety
- Delays gastric emptying
These effects collectively help control your cholesterol, body weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure which all reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Also, per a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dietary fiber has been shown to reduce inflammation, specifically, C-reactive protein, a sensitive inflammatory marker that can predict chronic disease.
Eat More Whole Plant Foods
Consuming more dietary fiber means eating lots of whole plant foods, such as:
- Whole grains
Soluble fiber acts like a “cholesterol sponge”. Sources include:
- Seeds (especially flaxseeds)
- Most fruits
Sources of insoluble fiber, a.k.a. “Nature’s Broom”, help prevent constipation and include:
- Whole wheat
- Wheat bran
- Brown rice
- Other whole grains
- Most vegetables
When shopping for “packaged” grain products, such as bread, crackers and ready-to-eat cereals, the first word in the ingredients list should be “whole”. However, the remaining ingredients might look like a bunch of chemicals, so how do you choose?
The “Five to One Fiber Rule”
A more reliable strategy to identify a healthy whole grain food product is to compare carbohydrates to fiber. The ratio of carbohydrates to dietary fiber should be 5 to 1 or less. To determine the ratio, divide the grams of carbohydrates by the grams of fiber.
For example, a slice of Dave’s Killer Bread® Powerseed contains 17 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of dietary fiber or a ratio of 3.4 to 1. Great choice!
Now compare a slice of their organic white bread, White Done Right, which contains 21 grams of carbohydrates and only 2 grams of dietary fiber. This bread has a ratio of 10.5 to 1, so the white bread gets a thumbs down. It definitely doesn’t meet the standards of being a hearty whole grain food product.
Ezekiel Sprouted Whole Grain English Muffins (1/2 half) contains 15 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of dietary fiber. This translates to a 5 to 1 ratio. So it makes the shopping cart cut! (By the way, these muffins are very good! Since they’re made with freshly sprouted live grains and contain no flour, you can find them in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.)
You can also apply the 5:1 fiber rule to processed ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. A serving of Multigrain Cheerios® touts “More Whole Grain” and sounds pretty darn whole grainy. Well, it contains 24 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber, i.e., a ratio of 8 to 1. This cereal goes back on the shelf. Sorry, long-time Cheerios fans.
Interestingly, a cup of regular Cheerios® which proudly states it’s “Clinically PROVEN to Help Reduce Cholesterol” contains 20 grams of carbs and 3 grams of dietary fiber — a ratio of 6.7 to 1 which is actually lower than their ‘Multigrain’ version, but is still a no-go. The Multigrain has a higher ratio because it’s loaded with sugar (6 grams of sugar compared to 1 gram in the regular Cheerios).
Fit Tip: Following a high-fiber eating plan may be one of THE MOST IMPORTANT nutritional strategies for living a longer and stronger life. Think plant-based when it comes to your plate. 🙂