Carbohydrates Part 1 | Facts About Fiber

Mar 22, 2019

 

You Will Learn

  • What is a carbohydrate?
  • What is fiber?
  • What are the benefits of fiber?
  • What foods are high in fiber?  

 

What is a Carbohydrate?  

A carbohydrate is simply a type of food compound. They are called carbohydrates because at the cellular level they contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbohydrates are one of the 3 major categories of food, also known as macronutrients. 

The other two are proteins and fats. Carbohydrates tend to be our bodies preferred source of energy because they are broken down faster and easier than proteins or fats.  

 

What are the Different Kinds of Carbohydrates?  

There are 3 major types of Carbohydrates – Fiber, Starch, and Sugar. Each group of carbohydrates has subgroups. This blog post will go in depth about fiber, future blog posts will cover starch and sugar.  

 

Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber  

There are 2 different types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Both are important for health, digestion, and preventing disease.  

Soluble fiber easily dissolves in water turns to a gel-like substance that is digested by bacteria in the large intestine, releasing gases and a few calories.  

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is left intact as food moves through the digestive system, adding bulk to the stool. Because it is not digested at all, insoluble fiber is not a source of calories.1, 2  

 

Benefits of Soluble Fiber  

Lowers fat and cholesterol absorption: The gel-like substance prevents some absorption of fat and cholesterol. Over time eating a diet high in soluble fiber can help lower your cholesterol levels.  

Stabilizes blood sugar levels: Soluble fiber slows down the digestion rate of other nutrients, including starch and sugar, reducing the spikes in blood sugar levels that these nutrients would typically cause.  

Reduces the risk of heart disease: By lowering cholesterol levels, stabilizing blood sugars, and decreasing fat absorption, regularly eating soluble fiber helps reduce your risk of heart disease.2  

 

Benefits of Insoluble Fiber  

Prevents and treats constipation: Because insoluble fiber is not digested, it promotes bowel movements by adding bulk and water to your stool, creating a softening action in the digestive system.  

Lowers the risk of colon cancer: By preventing constipation and intestinal blockages, insoluble fiber helps reduce the risk of developing hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer.2  

 

Mixed Benefits: Soluble and Insoluble Fiber  

Weight management: Soluble fiber slows down how quickly foods are digested, meaning most people feel full longer after fiber-rich meals. Insoluble fiber physically fills up space in the stomach and intestines, furthering the sensation of being full. These properties can help people manage their weight by reducing the likelihood of going back for seconds or snacking later.  

Lowers your risk of disease: Due to fiber’s many health benefits, a high-fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.2  

 

How Much Fiber do I Need?  

Fiber needs vary depending on age but on average most adults need between 25 and 35 grams of fiber per day, preferably from real food. Food manufacturers may voluntarily list the amount in grams (g) per serving of soluble fiber and insoluble fiber on the Nutrition Facts Label.

 

What Makes a Food a "Good" Source of Fiber?

In the United States products that contain at least 10% of the daily value or 2.5 grams of fiber per serving can claim they are a “good source of fiber” and those containing at least 20% of the daily value of fiber or 5 grams or more of fiber per serving can label the product with a high fiber claim.1  

 

Whole Wheat vs. White vs. No Bread?  

Notice that there is only one bread on the list below of foods that are good sources of fiber, I’m sure there would be other breads with added fiber that could be added to this list but as a rule of thumb bread is not a good source of fiber.  

On average 1 slice of regular whole wheat bread has 1.9 grams of fiber, 1 slice of white bread has .9 grams of fiber, and 1 slice of rye bread has 1.5 grams of fiber. None meet the criteria of having at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving to be a “good source” of fiber.  

The whole-wheat vs white bread question boils down to a little fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If you are trying to lose or manage your weight, you best option is subbing out the bread for something more nutritious. Many restaurants will have other side options like fresh fruit or vegetables, cottage cheese, or salad. At home the substitutions are endless. If you are going to eat your bread, whole wheat is the better option.  

 

What Foods are Good Sources of Fiber?  

Below are some common foods that are good sources of fiber.3 While they may be high in fiber, that doesn’t always mean they are the best choice depending on what your weight loss and wellness goals are.  

I recommend considering what else is in the food aside from just fiber. For weight management, try to select foods from these lists that contain vitamins and minerals and are lower in starch and sugar.

 

The Bottom Line  

Carbohydrates in the form of fiber are great for you! They keep you regular, prevent disease, and slow the absorption of other nutrients. Aim for at least 20-25 grams per day but up for 40 has been shown beneficial.  

 

Action Items  

  • Look up how much fiber you are eating in a typical day. If you are dealing with constipation, try to get at least 20-25 grams per day. If you can't get enough fiber from food, try a fiber supplement. 
  • Fiber needs water! Be sure you are staying hydrated. Aim for 1/2 to 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight/day, or enough water that your urine is light yellow or clear.

 

References  

1. Fiberfacts.org. Dietary Fiber on the Food Label. Aug 16, 2016. Accessed Feb 27, 2019.

2. Huizen, J. Soluble and insoluble fiber: What is the difference? Medical News Today. Aug 31 2017. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319176.php. Accessed Feb 27 2019.

3. USDA Food Composition Databases. United States Department of Agriculture.

4. Agricultural Research Service. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list. Accessed March 4, 2019. 

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