Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fabulous Feast of Fiber

Yesterday was my very last lab as a University student and so I can officially retire my lab coat! I have a feeling the next two and a half weeks (eek!) are going to contain a lot of "lasts as a student." Tuesdays are Quantity Food Production days, which I have posted about once before when talking about my Buy Local themed meal. Today was the last time I had to suit up in my lab coat and hair net and actually be in lab all day preparing the meal. Next week is the last official lab day but it's my week off so all I have to do is show up and eat! I was the baker this week and made chocolate walnut cake with whipped cream, drizzled in chocolate sauce. This week's theme was High Fiber, and as such, all of the recipes were modified to be high fiber versions of everyday foods. The menu was:
Appetizer: White Bean Dip with Toasted Pita Crisps
Main: Caesar salad and Lasagna
Dessert: Chocolate Walnut cake with Whipped Cream and Chocolate Drizzle

It was a bit of a coincidence that this week's meal was fiber themed. I've been on a quest to amp up the fiber in my diet and have spent the last week trying to find a high fiber breakfast cereal that also had no added sugar. I thought this would be easy, but it turns out that EVERYTHING has added sugar these days! In an attempt to cut out unnecessary sugar from my diet, I embarked on a non-religious lent challenge of consuming no added sugar. I didn't think it would be very hard - I don't typically eat breakfast cereals, I don't add sugar to my coffee, I try to limit my processed food intake to virtually zero and with the exception of oatmeal, I don't typically add sugar to foods. Little did I realize that pretty much every single food on the planet that comes in a box, a wrapper or container has sugar added to it! My other major obstacle in this challenge was my love of baked goods which was particularly challenging during a FANS potluck last week and at Quantity meals which all include dessert. I'm not going to lie, I have failed miserably at not eating any added sugar (I definitely did not pass up the quantity dessert!), however I am definitely more aware of it now and am reading labels more carefully and trying to make sugarless choices when buying pre-packaged foods. I have indulged in a baked good or two since the beginning of lent but I think I am eating less sugar than I was before, so that counts right?

Anyways, back to the fiber! It occurred to me the other day that I started this blog to document my internship and my path to becoming a Registered Dietitian, but at no point in this blog have I really shared anything I have learned. One of the things I love most about dietetics is that it can be applied to anyone, anywhere at any life stage. Everyone eats, and the fact that everyone's eating habits differ based on food availability, income, culture, age, etc makes the profession that much more dynamic and challenging. But one thing that is consistant across the planet is the importance of fiber!

Dietary Fiber is essentially the portion
of plant foods that can't be digested. Because it is not digested, it is not absorbed into the body. There are two types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers absorb water in the GI tract, are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine and help soften stool. Insoluble fibers are not fermented, provide bulk and speed up the movement of food through the GI tract promoting regularity. Both of these help keep your GI tract moving and clean.

Fiber has a long list of benefits, including (but not limited to):
  • It may reduce appetite because it provides food volume without many calories and takes longer to digest. The longer it takes to digest, the longer you will feel full.
  • Can help lower cholesterol
  • Diets high in fiber have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease
  • Prevents constipation
  • Has been shown to help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and helps regulate blood sugars in people who already have diabetes
Dietitians of Canada recommend that men get 38g of fiber per day and women get 25 g of fiber per day. Foods that are high in fiber are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. There is tons of fiber found in the skins of fruits and veg, so when possible try to leave the skin on your apples, potatoes, carrots etc. Some easy ways to add fiber to your existing diet are to add ground flax seed or chia seeds or hemp seeds (or any other seed or nut) to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt or cereals. You can find tons of recipes online for dishes that have been altered slightly to contain added fiber. For example, the chocolate cake we made in lab yesterday had pureed black beans and ground flax in the batter, which you couldn't even taste. Swapping your usual white noodles, rice and bread for whole grain varieties and eating more fruits and veg will all increase your daily fiber intake.

To avoid discomfort, I suggest amping up your fiber intake gradually over about a week, and make sure you drink plenty of fluids to accompany the high fiber intake. Another thing to note (that I learned the hard way) is that if you are physically active, running in particular, you may want to increase your fiber intake even more slowly, as exercise increases that rate at which food passes through your body as well. I can assure you that the post high fiber meal run isn't always fun, and should only be attempted along a route that contains lots of places to stop if needed.

I finally did find a high fiber cereal without added sugar (Fiber 1) but I mistakingly only read the front of the box that screamed NO ADDED SUGAR, 14G of FIBER PER SERVING! at me in huge bold bright letters and didn't even look at the nutrition facts panel or ingredients list which was bad news bears because although there is no added sugar, it's sweetened with sucralose (AKA Splenda) which I could taste as soon as I put it in my mouth and which I happen to strongly dislike. So lesson of the day: Eat lots of fiber and read the nutrition facts panel and ingredient lists carefully. It's so easy to be mislead by fancy advertising and front of the box claims that aren't always as accurate as they appear.

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