How does eating a diet high in fiber improve our health? A greatly decreased risk of heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and diverticular disease are just a few of the many health benefits. The typical American eats less than 20 gr. of fiber a day, whereas our ancestors likely ate over 100 gr. In modern rural populations that still eat large amounts of plant foods, rates of chronic diseases are much lower than in developed countries.
Humans were meant to eat mostly plants and to do so in large amounts. That much is evident from our teeth, the length of our digestive tract, and the digestive enzymes we produce. Fiber-filled plant foods fill us up and signal our brain that we have had enough to eat. That is why, on a whole foods, plant-based diet, you never need to count calories or worry that you have eaten too much. In the last few decades, with the increased intake of processed food, the amount of fiber we eat has fallen sharply. The low levels of fiber in these foods do not send the signal that we’ve had enough, so we continue to be hungry and keep on eating.
Fiber feeds our healthy gut bacteria, which in turn produce beneficial substances for our bodies, optimize our immune system and protect us from bad bacterial players. Fiber is only found in plant foods, and some researchers believe that it is not fiber alone, but the many plant nutrients associated with it that benefit our bodies. That may be why eating lots of plants (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, rice, etc.) keeps us much healthier than just adding a commercial fiber supplement to our diet.
How do we know we are eating enough fiber? Of course it’s best to head for the produce aisle and skip the animal and processed foods altogether. If we are eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, we don’t have to give it a second thought. But in our busy lives, even these healthy eaters occasionally use (minimally) processed foods.
Here is a simple method to quickly judge whether a processed food has enough fiber, without being swayed by the alluring marketing claims on the package.
Look at the Nutrition Facts label and divide the grams of carbohydrates by the grams of fiber. The resulting number should be 5 or lower.
Next time you’re headed for the grocery store, pick up your favorite processed food and do this calculation. You may just be surprised!