The Healthiest Superfood of All?
Imagine sitting down with your doctor to go through the results of your yearly physical. Doc goes through the numbers; weight, cholesterol, blood sugars, and gives you all the annual warnings about diet, exercise, drinking and smoking. But this year there is something else... Doc tells you about this interesting drug.
The drug is unique, and the clinical proof is quite impressive. It significantly reduces heart disease (the number 1 killer in Canada), stroke, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer and breast cancer. If that wasn't enough, Doc goes on to tell you it lowers weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Doc reaches over for the prescription pad and starts writing. Interested, you ask what the catches are; Safety profile? Side effects? Dependency? Your doctor smiles and says “hundreds of clinical trials show it’s very safe, no negative effects, no dependency”. And to top it off it’s cheap. You of coarse ask for the prescription which reads “Fibre over 30g daily”. Laughing awkwardly you ask really? Doc replies Really!!
You may not believe it but the un-sexiest of nutrients - fibre, may just be the healthiest superfood of them all. The prestigious British medical journal The Lancet just published a comprehensive review on the short and long term health impact of fibre. And I do mean comprehensive. The study covered just under 135 million person-years of data.
The results are startling. They found that people who ate the most fibre experienced a 15 to 30% decrease in all-cause mortality as well as cardiovascular-related deaths compared to those who ate the least fibre. Additionally, research also showed that a high fibre intake reduced risk of chronic diseases; coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast and colorectal cancers. Their research confirmed what we already knew … Fibre helps to lower blood cholesterol levels and keep body weight in check!
Sounds great. So all you have to do is eat more “fibre-rich foods” right? Well that’s where the challenge lies. It turns out it’s not that easy to get enough fibre in our diets. In fact it is so difficult that less than 10% of us get 20g daily, let alone the 25g-29g discussed in the study. The authors went on to say “Consuming 25 grams to 29 grams each day was adequate, but the data suggest that higher intakes of dietary fibre could provide even greater protection”. In other words, they recommend going well beyond 29g each day to get maximum benefit.
So how do you do it? Start off with a reality check. The vast majority of people, even those trying really hard (yes, including vegetarians and vegans) rarely hit their goal just using food. Sure proper food is key to hitting your mark but it can’t do it alone.
For example; 2 large apples, ½ cup (uncooked) rolled oats, 2 slices multigrain bread, 1 medium potato (with skin), 1 cup cooked lentils, and 2 large carrots. This 1 day’s food has about 29g of fibre. I don’t know anyone prepared to do that day in and day out, every day. That requires a level of commitment that we just don’t see.
Here’s a more realistic approach:
Switch all grain-based products to unprocessed whole grain varieties (ie switch white rice to wild rice, white bread to whole grain multigrain, French fries to baked potato with skin).
Cut out empty carbohydrates - White flour, white rice, white sugar. They offer little (if any) fibre or nutrition, just lots of calories.
Add veggies. Wherever possible and at each meal or snack include raw unprocessed vegetables. Use a wide variety to avoid boredom.
Supplement with fibre throughout the day. Your body is not designed to get a massive influx of fibre (a whole day’s supply) in one shot and then none for the rest of the day.
With this approach you can get the fibre you need each day without driving yourself insane.
But what about all those celebrity-endorsed diets that cut out carbs and fibre? Most diet plans still include fibre (mainly in the form of vegetables) albeit at levels far lower than those found in this study. If you are following any diet plan, you should look at supplementing daily with a high quality fibre supplement.
Keep in mind that you don’t want to go from zero to 100 in one day. Start out slow and build up your fibre intake. Let your body gradually adjust to a higher fibre regime. People who have low iron should also beware. Certain foods (whole grains and beans) contain phytates that can interfere with iron absorption in the blood. These people should aim to get more of their fibre from supplements.
Which fibre supplements to choose? In the past you were restricted to psyllium supplements which are gritty, taste pretty bad and are prone to gelling. All and all not pleasant to take. Today we are lucky. The new generation fibre supplements are much higher in fibre (90% vs 5% for psyllium) so you need to take less. They don’t thicken, have no taste and can be incorporated into foods and drinks without changing their taste or texture. I keep a bottle of Fiberrific by my stove and add it to almost everything I make. It is now my habit to have high fibre all the time. I eat it, drink it, live it.
We frequently cook for friends and family and no one knows the foods are high fibre Fiberrific superfoods. They just enjoy. To test this out, one time we made “gel” dessert where I added 250g of fibre to the mix without telling anyone. Six of us (including a picky teenager) ate it and no one was the wiser. I also added a fair bit to the cold water we were drinking (for good measure).
Fiberrific has some other great benefits. Unlike other fibres and fibre-rich foods, Fiberrific improves the absorption of many nutrients including calcium, magnesium, iron, B vitamins and protein. Additionally Fiberrific is a prebiotic (feeding your healthy gut flora) which improves digestion and immunity.
So bulk up. Eat a diet with varied sources of fibre throughout the day and remember to top up with Fiberrific at every opportunity. A little goes a long way … to improving your health.
Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. Dr. Claude Gallant holds a PhD in Microbiology.