Funny thing about fiber…not that fiber’s funny…but in any case, a recent NIH-funded study focusing on it offers some interesting food for thought. In the study, conducted by U. Mass. researchers and physicians, one group was told to follow detailed American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines on nutrition, many of which I’ve shared on my website, such as:
- Get at least half of your calories from carbs (complex carbs are best).
- Try to keep fat cals under about one-third of total calories.
- Keep added sugar under 25g or so, salt under 1,500 mg, etc.
Lots of numbers there. And though they CAN be memorized, the AHA “rules” can also be complicated for many people to follow day in and day out. In contrast, the other study group was told to focus on just ONE rule—getting 30 grams of fiber each day. Turns out the group that followed just this one rule lost about the same amount of weight (slightly less but not statistically significant) as the AHA-guidelines group.
The moral of the story?: Pick one nutrition “rule” to focus on and it will naturally lead you to a healthier array of foods for your pantry, fridge, and plate. As the lead researcher, Dr. Yunsheng Ma, M.D., Ph.D., notes about fiber: Foods high in dietary fiber found in plant-based foods can make you feel full for longer. High-fiber diets increase the need to chew, which in turn reduces hunger. Moreover, encouraging people to eat more fiber is a shorthand way to point to foods that are healthiest for us, wrote Ma (see HuffPo write-up).
Let’s say you choose to focus on foods with less sodium (AHA guidelines now recommend <1,500 mg daily) or foods with minimal added sugar. Where would that lead you? With sodium, you would have to shop wisely (and probably do some research) to find lower-sodium versions of most sauces and soups out there, not to mention convenience foods like pot pies, pizza, McDonald’s (Bacon Clubhouse Crispy Chicken Sandwich has 1,720 mg of sodium), and even many canned vegetables.
Similarly, a focus on added sugar (let’s say you decide to avoid anything with added sugar in the first 5 ingredients) would leave out practically all breakfast cereals, most protein bars, all sweets, many sauces and breads, all regular soft drinks, and most processed foods, especially if they say “fat free” or “low-fat.” Check out some of the low-fat yogurts out there, for example, where sugar is the 2nd or 3rd ingredient. Not to name names, yo, cause I want to play fair. 🙂
A focus on added sugars would drive you toward purer forms of food that have not been “through the mill” or otherwise processed, pureed, or preserved for shipping, storing, and reheating. And voila!
Healthier foods that take longer to digest give our bodies more chances to use their calories as fuel before storing them as fat.
So pick just one thing to focus on this week and see what happens.
Keep moving, Jen