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Fiber Up to Skinny Down

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

And boost energy, digestion and satisfaction in the process

Whether the latest diet debate centers around gluten-free or Paleo, carbs are a hot topic these days.  The problem is, the discussions typically cluster all carbs into one category:  bad, and thus all grains are also labeled.  The reasoning goes like this: all carbs, and therefore all grains, are unhealthy, fattening and strictly to be avoided, to the point where some shoppers will shell out $10 a package for Paleo Wraps.    The fallout of this oversimplification  keeps a lot of us steering clear of a really important fiber and nutrient source.

Carbohydrates are the starchy and sugary parts of food that break down into glucose, the sugar your body needs for fuel, so they do have their uses. And combining glucose with lots of plant fiber is the best way to keep blood sugar levels steady and long-lasting.  So as you may have guessed, neither all carbs nor all grains are created equal.

So what does all this have to do with fiber?  Well for one thing, we need to be eating a lot more of it.  The general recommendation for adults is 25 grams per day.  We’re currently coming in at around half of that.  Whole grains, which are made up of complex carbohydrates, which are naturally low in calories and high in fiber.  Along with plenty of plant-based whole fruits and veggies, grains are an important part of a healthy diet.  The fiber contained in complex carbohydrates, gives us the feeling of fullness that keeps us from overeating in addition to all the health benefits it offers. And researchers have linked high fiber consumption with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Then there are the other carbs—the simple or refined carbohydrates contained in white bread, white rice, pasta, pastries, crackers, most juices, and breakfast cereals. These are grains that started out whole, but then had the fibrous coating removed, so your body barely has to work to digest them.  Refined carbs enter the blood stream in a surge, leading to a spike in insulin that leads to a kind of roller-coaster effect on blood sugar: way up, then way down. Insulin surges can create a cycle of hunger and overeating in the short term, and long-term are associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.  To your body, refined grains like white rice are treated essentially the same way as a teaspoon of sugar: quick to convert to glucose, then leave you feeling hungry all over again.

Whole grains—as oats, quinoa, bulgur, brown rice, and wheat berries, fall into the complex carbohydrate family, and have a more leveling effect on blood sugar and insulin than do foods like white rice or pasta. Since most women consume only about half the 25–35 grams of fiber most experts recommend, you may want to think about making the switch to whole grains, the more intact the better.   Look for bread that lists whole wheat, whole rye, or some other whole grain as the first ingredient. Or, even better, buy bread that’s made with only 100% whole grains, like 100% whole-wheat bread.

Brown rice is better than white, but why not experiment with some delicious new alternatives?  A dish that contains millet, wheat berries, hulled barley or bulgar can provide about 1/3 of your daily fiber requirement.    Whole grains are also high in protein and other important nutrients like phytochemicals.

The less widely used grains offer an entire new experience in flavor and texture.  From Minted Quinoa Tabouli, to Oven Baked Oats or Orange Fennel and Kamut Salad, you’ll discover whole new favorites to replace those refined wheat products and fiber you up right!

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