Perhaps the most unsexy nutrient in existence is fiber. We talk a lot about carbohydrates, protein, and, boy oh boy, do we love to talk about healthy fats; but recent studies show that a massive 97 percent of Americans aren't getting enough fiber. This is a problem. It's definitely time to bring the fiber conversation out from under the rug.
Dr. Justin Sonnenburg, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine, told Time magazine that fiber is "absolutely, without a doubt" the one nutrient we need for our overall health, but it is particularly important for our gut bacteria. Researchers have sunk their teeth into studies on fiber and its benefits since the '60s, and they've found that fiber produces short-chain fatty acids, which regulate the immune system once they're absorbed into the body. Plus, when the microbes in your gut are getting enough fiber, you have less of a chance of contracting Type 2 diabetes and you're even protected from certain autoimmune diseases.
It's unbelievable to think how many of us aren't getting enough fiber, when it's clearly a nutrient that packs a big punch. Dr. Sonnenburg says we only get about 15 grams of fiber on the daily, compared to around 150 grams our ancestors were consuming during the hunter gatherer era. So odds are, you're not getting enough.
Still wondering if you need to start working more legumes and oat bran into your diet? Here are six signs your body needs more fiber.
1. You Aren't Pooping Regularly
The biggest benefit of fiber consumption is that it allows you to pay regular visits to the toilet bowl. So, yeah, if you're not pooping enough, you're not getting enough of this crucial nutrient. Constipation isn't the only warning sign of not getting enough fiber; if you're not having BMs on a regular basis (it's most common for people to go every single day) or your schedule fluctuates in weird ways, those are also big indicators that your body is jonesing for fiber.
The trick to adding more into your diet, though, is by doing so gradually. Suddenly pumping your system with fiber-rich foods will cause bloating, discomfort, and a whole lot of gas. Instead, focus on slowly adding more fiber: little by little, trade white bread for whole grain, and mix soluble fibers (oats and beans) with insoluble ones (fruits, veggies, and brown rice).
2. You're Hungry Shortly After You Finish A Meal
Foods that have a lot of fiber are meant to keep you full for an extended period of time. Dr. Perri Klass wrote a blog entry for the New York Times explaining that one of the reasons boys and girls are ravenous during their adolescent growth spurt is because our society is so focused on protein that we're not feeding kids enough fiber. Yet fiber is the nutrient that will lead to true satiety.
Do you always feel hungry —even when you've knocked out that pizza only an hour ago? Well, it looks like your pubescent little brother isn't the only one who needs way more fiber. Fiber slows down your digestion — in a good way. Your body can digest everything it's already eaten in a much more efficient way, and you'll experience less cravings overall.
3. You Get Tired During The Day For No Apparent Reason
Without even realizing it, you're probably trying to compensate for the lack of fiber in your diet by eating a lot of protein and fatty foods. While you need these nutrients for a healthy diet, too, going overboard with them makes you feel fatigued at weird hours of the day. You might even feel too weak to get everything done.
Consider adding more soluble fiber into your diet, like whole grain toast in the morning (with avocado and shaved parmesan!) instead of the scone from your corner bakery. This will keep your energy levels even throughout the day so you don't crash later on without a warning.
4. You Eat A Lot Of Packaged Foods
If you look at your normal, day-to-day diet and see that you're often substituting things that either come frozen or out of a crinkly bag in place of fresh produce and homemade meals, you're almost definitely not getting enough fiber. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the big hitters in the fiber category, but all the nutrients they offer get sucked out when they're mass produced into packaged foods. So make sure to prioritize working fresh produce into your diet.
5. Your Blood Sugar Levels Aren't Stable
If you have no earthly idea how to tell if your blood sugar is high or low, you're about to find out — so you'll have no excuse to ignore it in the future. When you're tired, hungry, thirsty, irritable, and itchy, you've probably got high blood sugar. But low blood sugar makes you feel more shaky and weak, and maybe even confused and lightheaded.
Someone who's consistently turning a cold shoulder to fiber is going to experience a frequent fluctuation between these two extremes. Fiber delays the absorption of sugar into your system, which balances out how you process it. By incorporating more natural foods into your life that are packed with fiber, you will likely see a more even playing field for your blood sugar.
6. Your Cholesterol Is Really High
One more important function of fiber is flushing the excess cholesterol your body doesn't need out of your system. Keri Gans, New York based dietician and author of The Small Change Diet , told Women's Health magazine, "So if you're not getting enough fiber, the cholesterol doesn't have many chances to leave your body, which could explain why you have high levels of it." If you aren't sure of your cholesterol levels, go get tested. All it takes is a little bit of blood, which is a small price to pay in the big picture of your health. And if it is high, know that a solution may be just a few salads away.
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