March is National Nutrition Month which focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the 2018 National Nutrition Month® theme is “Go Further with Food.”
As a Registered Dietitian who truly believes in putting food first, over supplements & quick fixes, and one who has celebrated quite a few National Nutrition Months, I have to say this is one of my favorite themes. Learning how to eat versus what to eat, learning how the right foods in the right portions at the right times can truly FUEL & NOURISH our bodies and help them get through even our toughest days, is an amazing thing and one we may at times take for granted. Food is our greatest power. We have the ability to choose the foods to eat that can help us either heal or help us prevent, and those are two very powerful things.
When it comes to heart health, the foods we eat can play a major role in keeping our hearts healthy. The link between nutrition and heart health, specifically to helping control and manage cholesterol, is very strong.
The simple addition of fiber in your diet can really play a strong role in not only the maintenance of a healthy heart, but also weight management and digestion! Great things all around!
So as a way to, ”Go Further with Food,” this National Nutrition Month, I am challenging all of you to put some focus on Fiber!
So to start, what is fiber? Dietary fiber is the indigestible component of plant foods. It is the parts of plant that does not break down in our stomachs, and instead passes through our system undigested. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and insoluble fiber does not. Ok so let’s break it down more…
Soluble fiber attracts water and forms a gel in your digestive tract. The fiber pulls water as it moves and slows down the digestion process. This in and of itself helps with satiety as it slowly moves through your system, making fiber a key component in weight management! This slowing down of digestion delays the emptying of your stomach to keep you fuller for a longer period of time. Therefore, fiber is key to add to your meals. You can find this fiber in oatmeal, oats, lentils, barley, beans, nuts and seeds, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, berries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery, and carrots to name a few. Now, insoluble fiber adds bulk and helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity. It helps move things along easier and quicker! Insoluble fiber can be found in whole wheat, whole grains, wheat bran, seeds, veggies and then skins of fruits. In addition to weight management – fiber may aid in the prevention of heart disease by helping to lower your bad cholesterol levels, it can help control and regulate blood sugar levels for diabetics and of course can help keep a healthy digestive system. Easy ways to start boosting your fiber consumption:
– Focus on eating lots of plant based foods – veggies, grains and fruits! For example, berries contain ~4g of fiber in a ½ cup so start adding them to smoothies & oatmeal to start your morning fiber-full. – Make half your plate veggies at lunch and dinner as an easy way to visualize adding more fiber to your meals – Use avocado instead of mayo on a sandwich and with the addition of a ¼ of an avocado you will add ~2.5g of fiber – When cooking or baking – use coconut, oat or whole-wheat flours instead of white flours. – Switch sandwich breads and wraps to higher fiber, whole grain varieties. – Use higher fiber cereals (bran) instead of calorically dense granolas in your yogurt, or mix in a serving of high fiber cereal with half of a serving of your regular breakfast cereal in the morning. – Look for cereal with at least 5g of fiber per serving, no matter what! – Go meatless one day per week and have beans as your source of protein at your meal – adding lots of extra fiber too! How to increase your fiber and whole grain consumption properly?
The key here is slowly! If you add too much fiber too quickly into your diet, you will get bloated. This is a common mistake many people make and it in part brings them to consume less fiber as a result of frustration! Don’t let this happen to you. As described above, fiber is an indigestible part of the grain, and if you eat too much too quickly it may have a bloating or gassy effect on you. So, the key here is to start slow to allow your body time to adjust. AND most important over all, always make sure you are increasing your daily water consumption with the addition of high fiber foods. Adding all this fiber with no water will create almost like a stopper in your body, the opposite of what the fiber is supposed to do! Fiber needs water to pass through, so please don’t forget this part. Maybe you have heard in the past that including adequate fiber at meal times keeps you fuller longer, but now you know why. When you have fiber at your meals you are more satisfied and able to get from meal to meal without becoming too hungry. Avoiding the feeling of being too hungry is what keeps us from over-eating and thus helps us to reach our personal health goals.
Keep your heart and your body healthy this National Nutrition Month and always by starting to incorporate some of these tips into your day to day.
There is no expiration date on changing your lifestyle, any and every day is a good day to make a new change!
– Jenna A. Werner, RD
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The American Heart Association’s blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.