Sufficient fiber intake has many benefits, several of which we’ll talk about today.  However if you’re a fiber newbie there are some factors you’ll have to take into account to avoid excessive gas and bloating.

So what is fiber anyways?  Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not fully digestible.  It sweeps through your gut (and out the other end) and works some magic in a couple of different ways.

The government recommended intake for fiber is 25-35 grams per day, but some studies have shown that 75-100 grams daily could be even more beneficial.  To give you an idea of how much food we’re talking about, one large apple has about 5 grams.  The average American only consumes 10 grams of fiber daily, so we’ve all got some catching up to do!

Here are some of the ways fiber is fantastic:

  • Stay full longer.  Fiber slows food down as it exits your stomach, meaning you stay satisfied longer between meals.
  • Poop better.  Fiber eases the passing of stools throughout the digestive tract, making for a comfortable departure.
  • Decrease your cholesterol.  The type of fiber found in oats, barley, and beans has been shown to be helpful at reducing cholesterol.
  • Regulate your blood sugar.  Fiber delays glucose absorption into the blood.  That way instead of a sugar high and subsequent crash, you get a nice even blood sugar balance.

It’s important to get fiber from whole foods; supplements could result in fiber overdose and gastrointestinal upset.  Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.

If your diet is low in fiber now, increase your intake gradually.  A rapid surge in fiber intake can result in gas, bloating, or diarrhea- not fun!  Try adding in 5 grams per week over several weeks.   It is also vital to increase your water intake along with fiber.  Fiber needs water to help move it along the digestive tract.
 
There’s a lot of buzz going around right now about fish oil, which contains a high volume of Omega 3 fatty acids.  Today we’ll discuss what Omega 3’s are, why they’re so hot right now, and what foods (besides fish) contain them.

Omega 3’s are a particular kind of unsaturated fat.  Remember unsaturated fats are the ones that usually come from plants, and for heart health we want to eat more of these than saturated animal fats.

A number of research studies have shown that a diet rich in Omega 3’s can lower several risk factors for heart disease.  Overall they seem to be good at reducing inflammation, which is the root of many diseases.  Inflammatory conditions include asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and oodles more.

Food sources of Omega 3’s include:
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Tuna
  • Walnuts

Our bodies can metabolize the type of Omega 3’s found in fish into something useful quite easily.  The Omega 3’s in plant sources are a little bit more challenging to fully metabolize into functional products.  Both are good to eat, fish will just deliver a more potent dose of Omega 3’s with a smaller amount of food!

If you’re interested in taking a fish oil supplement, you should talk it over with your friendly local Nutritionist or Dietitian so they can recommend what’s best for you.

If you thought “What the heck is a chia seed?” Yes it is the same thing as what you put on chia pets, yes you can eat it, and we’ll talk about how you can do that another time!

 
Today we’ll be turning our attention to the scientifically engineered black sheep of the fat family: trans fats.

In the commercial food industry, unsaturated plant fats are hydrogenated to enhance the texture and extend the shelf life of certain processed foods, like baked goods.  One of the products of hydrogenation is trans fats.

Research indicates that a diet high in trans fats can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol, which increases the risk of clogged arteries.

I rarely advise people to ban specific foods from their diet.  Even the nutritionally devoid stuff has a place in a well-balanced eating life.  However in my opinion the types of foods that contain trans fats don’t have any place in a nourishing diet!

An easy way to spot a trans fat-containing food is to check the ingredient list.  If you see “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils, you’ve got some presence of trans fats.  Be wary of products that say “trans fat free” on the front of the package, the FDA allows this statement if the food contains less than 0.5 gram per serving.  They are also allowed a 20% margin of error, and their serving sizes are small.

There are some naturally occurring trans fats in dairy products.  We learned in our earlier fats discussion that we only want to consume a small amount of saturated animal fats anyways, so within a balanced diet natural trans fats aren’t really an issue.

This points to a larger lesson that a diet based on whole, minimally processed foods is best.  If you’re buying a packaged food look for one with a short ingredient list that has words that you can easily pronounce!

 
 Fat is an important part of a healthy diet.  Every single cell in our bodies has its own protective skin that is made out of fat.  Our body makes several fat-based hormones that are important for maintaining blood pressure, building muscle mass, and supporting a balanced metabolism.

There are a number of different kinds of fats in our food, and each one serves a slightly different purpose once it gets into our system.  Today we’ll talk about two main categories of fats: saturated and unsaturated.

Unsaturated fats are found mainly in plant foods such as nuts, avocados, and vegetable oils.  Fish is also a source of unsaturated fats.

Saturated fats are found mainly in animal foods such as meat and dairy.

An ideal diet has way more unsaturated (plant) fats than saturated (animal) fats.  Ten percent or less of your total fat intake should come from saturated fats.  In terms of a standard 2000 calorie/day diet that is just over 7 grams per day, which is about 1 Tablespoon of butter.  Eating a diet that is very high in saturated fat can increase your cholesterol and put you at risk for heart disease.

Here’s an easy way to remember this concept:  the less legs your fat source has, the healthier it is to eat!

  • Cows and pigs = 4 legs = Eat these less often
  • Chickens and turkeys = 2 legs = Eat these a little more often
  • Fish = No legs = Eat often
  • Vegetables = No legs = Eat often

I used this analogy with a client last year.  Afterwards we were discussing a jar of peanut butter.  I asked her how many legs a peanut has and she (rightfully) looked at me like I was insane.

Trans fats are another kind of fat you may have heard about.  We’ll talk about why it’s good to avoid these in tomorrow’s post.

Omega 3 fatty acids are a specific type of unsaturated fat.  We’ll talk about why they’re so hot right now in the post after that!