Part of any weight-loss nutrition plan is understanding how the different components affect your body’s metabolism and functioning. It’s very complex with lots of moving parts, and is enough to send anyone running for a bowl of ice cream with sprinkles to soothe your weary soul. I’ve been working seriously on improving my health through nutrition and I want to share some of the things I’ve learned. Maybe it will inspire someone else on their journey. I’m not a doctor, or a nutritionist, or any sort of expert. I’m just a regular 50-year-old woman trying to figure out what works for me. I hope there’s some helpful information here for you.
Every morning, like clockwork, I make my protein shake, grab a piece of fruit, and sit for breakfast. It’s the one non-negotiable, consistent meal choice that I don’t have to think about, plan or second-guess. According to my nutritionist’s instructions, my morning meal should consist of protein and one serving of carbs. I’ve been well-conditioned to understand that I can’t have too much protein, and that one carb serving is 15-22 grams.
When you’re paying attention to your carb intake, the fiber in food is an important consideration. Basically, you subtract the fiber from the carb count, so the more fiber, the less carbs you need to count.
So, if a slice of bread has 14 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fiber, do the math (14-2 = 12); two slices would be just over one carb serving, and if you’re having a sandwich, you’re getting 4 grams of fiber. (I was told there would be no math!!! Oh well…)
Why fiber and and how much?
My nutritionist advises a minimum of 20 grams a day. The American Heart Association recommends an average of 28 grams. Since my nutritionist keeps asking me about my fiber intake, I wanted to know what exactly is the magic property that it has. According to a 2019 article from Harvard Health Blog, we need both soluble and insoluble fiber and there are two main benefits:
- Insoluble fiber bulks up your poop and keeps the pipes clean.
- Soluble fiber sops up cholesterol in said pipes, preventing it from being absorbed into your bloodstream.
- Both types make us feel more full, so we don’t overeat.
These benefits translate into lowering all these things: weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, breast and colon cancer. A 2019 study in the Lancet did a meta-analysis (looked at multiple studies over many years) focusing on “carbohydrate quality and non-communicable disease incidence, mortality and risk factors.” (Read it if you want a more complex understanding of the details.) This study also suggests we consume 25-29 grams of fiber per day to maximize our disease risk reduction.
Ways to get fiber
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of TikTok videos about chia seeds and their magical properties relating to #2. Some people add them to water with lemon juice and it acts as a colon cleanse. They’re super high in fiber, which many women of my age have an increased need for, so instead of doing the lemon-water-chia slurry, I decided to start adding them to the morning protein shake. My easy shake-and-go recipe that has about 10 grams of fiber:
- 1 cup oatmilk
- 1 scoop protein powder (2g)
- 2 teaspoons chia seeds (4g)
- 2 teaspoons of psyllium husk (4g)
- water, cinnamon, espresso powder
One caveat to the chia seeds, which is not an issue for me, is that when they start to absorb the liquid in the shake, they get sort of gooey, so there’s an added gooey-crunch to the texture of the shake. You also have to keep shaking it to keep them from clumping. I know – it doesn’t sound palatable and anyone with texture issues will probably not do well with this. It took a little getting used to, but let’s just say the end result of easier bathroom trips is worth it.
The general recommendation is that we get fiber from food sources:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
This chart from the Mayo Clinic is really useful to see exactly how much fiber is in various sources. My newly discovered chia seeds are 10 grams per ounce. Now, I don’t eat a whole ounce at once (they are also high in fat), but two teaspoons in the morning helps. Eat the skins of apples, pears and potatoes. Oatmeal is a great source. Lentils, split peas and black beans are too. Writing this, I’m crunching on sugar snap peas, which have almost 3 grams per 1/2 cup, and I’m told I can eat an unlimited amount of raw veggies like that.
How do you get to 25 grams? Here’s an example:
- 1 cup raspberries – 8 grams
- 2 tsp chia seeds – 4 grams
- psyllium husk – 4 grams
- Pear with skin – 5 grams
- 1 cup of broccoli – 5 grams
Honestly, it’s easiest to get your fiber intake kick-started with breakfast. That’s when our brains accept the idea of eating cereal and fruit. Add in your crunchy veggies and the occasional legume source and you can get there every day. I love air-popped popcorn in my silicon bowl with a light sprinkle of white cheddar popcorn seasoning. I’m all about the crunch, and I don’t need the salt and fat.
Here’s a few more combinations you might be interested to know. Keep in mind how you prepare these foods. These ideas are just about getting more fiber in your food choices:
- 1 cup brown rice, 1 cup black beans – 18 grams (watch the salt if you’re using canned black beans)
- 1 cup oatmeal with 1 cup blueberries – 9 grams (watch the butter and whole milk if you usually add that)
- 1 cup cheerios, 1 medium banana, 1 cup oat milk – 8 grams
- 1 cup broccoli with 1 medium potato with skin – 9 grams
One thing to remember: ALWAYS look at food labels of pre-packaged foods. Check the fiber content while you are adding things up. Some things that say whole grain are more refined and the fiber count is lower than the front of the package would lead us to believe. Food companies that sell crap often try to fool us by saying things are healthy with pictures of fruit and declarations of “low in fat, low in sugar, high in fiber.” Don’t believe it. Read the nutrition labels. Low in one ingredient means high in another that may not be so good for you.
In the end, you need to know what your body needs. If you can see a nutritionist or registered dietician to get some counseling for a proper plan, do it. You don’t have to see them weekly for the rest of your life, but understanding how to build better food habits will affect you for the rest of your life. You’ve got one body – treat it wisely.
Fiber-full eating for better health and lower cholesterol (2019). Harvard Health Publishing
Carbohydrate quality and human health: a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses (2019). The Lancet
Chart of high-fiber foods (2022). Mayo Clinic
Sound the fiber alarm! Most of us need more of it in our diet (2022). American Heart Association