Most people today are walking around with a huge fiber deficiency, and they don't even know it. Why is this important? You may ask... Well, our digestive tract is made specifically to be able to breakdown tough substances like fiber. It's long and full of enzymes and bacteria that want to get the most out of everything we consume. Eating fiber is like a work-out for your gut, it keeps it strong and able to work hard. But the benefits of fiber aren't limited to digestion, there are benefits to the rest of your body too.
Take cholesterol, for example. You've probably seen the Cheerios commercial where they tell you that eating Cheerios will help lower your cholesterol. It's because cheerios are made out of oats, and oats have fiber! An even better way to lower your cholesterol is to straight up eat the OATS! Here's how it works. Cholesterol floats around in your blood stream, periodically coming back to the liver to be repackaged. When the liver notices there is too much cholesterol, it sends some out in the form of bile, which goes to the gallbladder for storage. When you eat food, the gallbladder releases some of this bile, which also has digestive enzymes in it. So, say some oatmeal makes its way through your stomach and into your intestines. It gets all mixed up with bile, digestive enzymes, and cholesterol. The fiber from the oatmeal binds onto the cholesterol and clings to it all the way down. Eventually, you poop out the fiber and cholesterol leaves your body with it. What's even cooler is that this happens not only for cholesterol, but other toxins as well! This includes excess hormones like estrogen, which can play a role in developing breast cancer. All the extra, toxic stuff gets sent out by the liver, but if there isn't enough fiber in your diet, it will just get reabsorbed into your body. Fiber helps to keep your body clean and functioning smoothly.
The next great thing about fiber is that it serves as food for the bacteria in your gut. Your gut bacteria is working hard to break down fiber long after you're done with your meal. A byproduct of this happy bacteria having something good to munch on is a substance called propionic acid, a short-chain fatty acid that gets absorbed in the colon. Once absorbed, it works in the bloodstream to do some pretty cool things. First, it goes to the liver and talks to an enzyme that's involved in the process of making BRAND NEW cholesterol, telling it not to make quite so much. This results in even less cholesterol in your bloodstream. Second, propionic acid has a way of slowing down the rate of gastric emptying, meaning food stays in your stomach a little bit longer at the next meal. This leads to a slower absorption of glucose and subsequently more stable blood sugar and insulin levels. This is especially good for people who are diabetic or have problems with insulin resistance.
And there's more!! Fiber is found in things like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. These just happen to be THE most nutrient dense foods around. They're the only foods that have not only high levels of vitamins and minerals, but also special health-promoting components called phytochemicals. These compounds have been shown to be protective against a wealth of common diseases including alzheimers, cancer and depression. The more of these plant-chemicals we can eat, the better. By keeping our digestive tract happy and healthy (through eating lots of fiber!) we're better able to absorb nutrients from the foods we eat, allowing them to do their job inside our bodies to protect us from disease and help us recover faster from everyday activities (like climbing mountains). So really, why would you eat anything BUT fiber-rich foods?
The recommended daily amount of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Here's a sample day of food that's easy to make and will give you even more than the recommended amounts.
(find the recipe for Lentil Artichoke Stew here!)
So don't be fiber deficient! Eat oats, brown rice, quinoa, millet, potatoes (with the skin!), sweet potatoes, whole grain sprouted bread, kidney beans, black beans, lima beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, zucchini, kale, squash, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, corn, apples, oranges, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, plums, peaches, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds. Eat plants!
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Other Neat Things:
My friends Harpo and Groucho are some bad-ass thru-hiking vegans. Read their blog here.
Idyllwild is a favorite trail town for many PCT hikers. This online magazine has featured a few hikers and also keeps up with mountain-town happenings.
Future Dad is thru-hiking the Pacific Crest, Te Aurora and Appalachian Trails back-to-back-to-back, all in one year! He's also a really awesome story teller. Read his stories here.