Keep It Regular During the Holidays: Eat Your Fiber!

Oh, the Holidays...between Thanksgiving and January 2nd, there is a LOT of food rolling out of the kitchen. Considering all that delicious meats (turkey, ham or, in my family’s case, crab), sweets (pies, cookies etc.) and higher fat foods (which are fine in moderation) fiber tends to get pushed aside and then we end up with not-so-regular bathroom habits. And we all know what that feels like…

What better way to prevent all that than to make sure your fiber intake is still high? (I know, that’s a grabber of an opening sentence). This is from the nutritional fitness person who believes that poop is important and I want to ensure the SAPTstrength readers are prepared to be comfortable this holiday season.

sheik sleeping
sheik sleeping

Fiber comes in two flavors, insoluble and soluble.

Insoluble: fiber that does NOT dissolve in water. This is found in things like corn, carrots and some nuts and seeds (any fruit/veggie with tough cell walls that don’t break down easily), and it bulks up the stool. Gives it some heft, one might say, so that gravity can do it’s job of pulling it down and out.

Soluble: fiber the DOES dissolve in water and forms a gel-like substance to help ease the passing… glide, slide or shoot through, however you want to think of if. Soluble fiber is found in oats, beans, apples, peas, lentils and psyllium husk (Metamucil anyone?).

Why eat fiber?

1. Regular bowel movements -> Need I elaborate?

2. Maintain healthy intestines -> Those regular bowel movements ensure that stuff doesn’t just sit in your intestines (ewww…) and can help prevent ulcers and other unpleasant things like that. There also seems to be a connection between the fermentation of fiber and gut health; more research is being done in that area.

3. Lowers blood cholesterol -> Soluble fiber may help lower LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). I’ll let an article from How Stuff explain:

When fiber interferes with absorption of bile in the intestines, the bile is excreted in the feces. To make up for this loss of bile, the liver makes more bile salts. The body uses cholesterol to make bile salts. So in order to obtain the cholesterol necessary to make more bile salts, the liver increases its production of LDL receptors.

These receptors are responsible for pulling cholesterol out of LDL molecules in the bloodstream. Therefore, the more bile salts are made from the liver, the more LDL cholesterol is pulled from the blood. There is more to be learned about the relationship between soluble fiber and cholesterol, however. It is also possible that one of the short-chain fatty acids produced by the fermentation of soluble fiber in the large intestines may inhibit the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver.

Cool huh?

4. Helps maintain a steady blood sugar levels -> Fiber slows the absorption of glucose into the blood stream thus preventing wild spikes and dips. And we all know that the holidays are laden with super-sugary foods can lead to these spikes; these aren’t great on the body.

5. High fiber diets aid in both weight loss and weight maintenance -> How? a) See #4; wild blood sugar highs and lows lead to insulin spikes which wreck havoc on the fat-loss biological pathways (insulin isn’t evil, but constant spikes can hinder fat loss).  b) fiber keeps you full longer and generally high fiber foods are lower in calories. c) High fiber foods also tend to be high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which, while I can’t point you to any studies, anything that reduces inflammation and stress in the body is going to help promote healthy weights.

So, if fiber is SO AWESOME… how much do you need?

The American Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medecine recommends for men under 50, 30g and women under 50, 25g. Men and women over 50 should shoot for 30g and 21 g, respectively. Active folks need up towards 40-ish grams. (not sure why that is.) Anyway, the average American eats about 4-11 grams…fail.

How much to you eat, realistically? Think about that…

Anyway, how does one get more fiber? Pretty easily actually. Just eat more vegetables and fruits. It’s not terribly complex. I also take Metamucil (as does my husband… but don’t let his experience deter you!). I know, I know, you should always go for the whole food sources first, and I can tell you: I do. I eat a LOT of vegetables and fruits (kale, 2-3 apples per day, and a lunch and dinner that’s 60-75% vegetables). Unfortunately, I have a very sensitive system. If I’m even just a little stressed (as in, I only got 7 hours of sleep instead of 8), I won’t poop. (More info that you wanted, but I know I’m not the only one who struggles with that.) Which in turn, stresses me out a bit more because I’m uncomfortable and the cycle just continues. Metamucil has made my life much better as it just helps give my system the extra budge it needs.

So, while I say first reevaluate your vegetable and fruit intake and only if you’re eating a lot at every meal and still struggling… add in some pysllium husk (which you can also take by itself).

Anyway, for a healthier and happier holiday season, don’t leave fiber out in the cold!