Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bulk up to slim down: Easier said than done!

By now, we all know about the importance of fiber in the diet, right? Fiber -- an indigestible complex carbohydrate that comes from the thick cell wall of plants -- gives food a more interesting, satisfying texture; aids in the digestive process by keeping food moving through the body; makes us feel "full" longer and thereby eat less; helps fight diseases such as diabetes and heart disease; and prevents the absorption of a percentage of calories in foods, therefore helping us lose weight.

Doctors have been advising us to get more fiber in our diets for years, even as Americans' eating habits grow increasingly fiber-less and unhealthy (not much fiber in a Big Mac, after all!). The latest recommendation is 25-37 grams per day, says Prevention.

Gulp! MUCH easier said than done ....

To put this in perspective, here are nutritional facts about some of the bulkiest foods: 1 cup cooked broccoli or carrots, 5 g. and 54 calories; 1/2 cup cooked barley or quinoa, 3 g. and about 100 calories; 1 cup blackberries of raspberries, 8 g. and 65 calories; 1 cup cooked black beans, 15 g. and 227 calories; 1 cup cooked chick peas, 13 g. and 269 calories. Foodstuffs such as dairy (milk and cheeses), proteins (chicken, fish, beef) and fats (oils) contain zero grams of fiber but crucial nutrients and added calories.

So, each day you have to eat a mountain of fruits and veggies or grains, plus a pile of legumes, just to get within the recommended range. But, on a restricted-calorie diet, such as the 1,500-1,600 per-day range that I must stay within to maintain my weight (and even fewer during those times I need to lose a few pounds), I could easily go way over the calorie limit in order to get enough fiber. Not to mention -- being very unpopular in crowded places, as the indigestible fiber "talks back" to me!!

It's a delicate balance, then, getting enough fiber without overeating (or without being over-gaseous!). And not one that I get right every day, by a long shot. Oh, I do regularly eat lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains, but not legumes on a daily basis. What I DO do is try to add bulk in "sneaky" ways, such as sprinkling bran on my cereal or yogurt or into protein shakes (1/4 cup, 7 g. and 35 calories).

To help you in your fiber quest, check out the Prevention site and its handy-dandy Fiber Up Food Finder. Happy bulking!

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