Fiber - Casey Giltner

The smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of birds chirping in a nearby tree, and the familiar warmth of sun hitting your back are all welcome signs of spring. As the mercury rises and tank tops and bathing suits come out of storage, those pesky extra winter pounds become a little more apparent.

While most people start thinking about what they should cut out to shed excess weight, when it comes to lasting weight loss it may not be what you subtract, but what you add. Increasing dietary fiber is an easy way to keep you full and satisfied for longer, which can naturally lead to consuming less calories. While the term fiber may evoking thoughts of dense bran muffins, or hearty bowls of tough, dry shredded wheat, there are plenty of ways to get this body-friendly nutrient into your diet without weighing you down.  So, what is fiber, why is it so highly touted, and what are some surprisingly light ways of sneaking it into your diet?

Fiber is the part of a complex carbohydrate that remains intact as it passes through the digestive system because the body doesn’t have the enzymes needed to digest it. Since your body can’t use it for energy, it adds bulk to foods without adding calories, keeping you feeling fuller on less. It is also denser and requires more chewing, which gives your body a chance to register that is full before you overeat, making it a rock star for weight management.

While your body doesn’t have the enzymes needed to break down fiber, your colon is full of friendly bacteria that feed on it. This produces short-chain fatty acids that can help increase calcium absorption, lower the pH of your colon to prevent the overgrowth of such bacteria as salmonella and E. coli and provide useful energy to colon cells. The weight of fiber helps bulk up stool, providing more full elimination, which keeps your digestive tract clean and helps to reduce the risk of colon cancer. The complex carbohydrates that fiber is found in also take longer to digest, helping regulate spikes (and crashes) in blood sugar, which keeps you from turning to sugary snacks later in the day.  Fiber also helps the body remove excess blood cholesterol, which can help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and other plant-based foods. Adding berries, walnuts and flax seeds to yogurt or spreading almond butter on celery can pack a powerful fiber punch in an afternoon snack. Air-popped popcorn is an easy, simple, fiber-filled treat. Try adding a scoop of quinoa to your dinner salad or top corn tortillas with black beans, mixed greens, guacamole, and a squeeze of fresh lime for a fiber-packed supper. For a handy lunch, try wrapping hummus and roasted vegetables in a whole wheat tortilla.