Don’t stop reading yet! All I’ve said so far is “fiber” and I’ve already lost most of you. Most people think that fiber is just about regularity, but that’s a load of, well… you know what! It’s an important component of every diet, and most people don’t eat enough of it. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men and women eat 38 or 25 grams of fiber each day, respectively, and the latest survey data indicates that our average intake is less than half of this amount!
Even though it’s simply undigestible plant matter, fiber has a wide range of benefits – it helps keep you full and satisfied, it decreases risk of colon cancer and diverticular disease, helps lower cholesterol levels, and feeds the good bacteria in your gut. But in my experience, there’s one particular “fun fact” about fiber that tends to surprise and intrigue; one thing that gets people ACTUALLY EXCITED ABOUT EATING FIBER…
So what are the magic words?
When you eat a diet high in fiber, it decreases the amount of calories that you absorb from the rest of the food you eat. You can read the details in several classic studies, but the basic idea is that the presence of fiber in the digestive tract makes food less accessible to digestive enzymes, slows the rate of diffusion across intestinal walls, and causes a faster “transit time” (the total time that a food spends in your digestive system), providing less opportunity for digestion and absorption. This mechanism could potentially be a problem for people with either low intake or high energy needs, but most of us welcome the idea of eating more food with a little less caloric impact!
While eating a balanced diet is obviously the way to go, sometimes things get a little less balanced than others. In times like these, why not use science to our advantage? Life’s too short to not eat pizza… but if you’re thinking of your figure, fiber gives you one more reason to supplement with a salad!
If you couldn’t already tell, I’m not just an RD – I’m a total nutrition nerd. I’m endlessly fascinated by the various quirks of human metabolism, biochemistry and food science. If you can relate, check out the Nutrition Science category of this blog for more tidbits on these topics! Unfortunately I don’t always have time to write up a whole post on every topic that crosses my path, but that’s the beautiful thing about TWITTER. If you’re into this stuff, I recommend following me!