By Mairlyn Smith P.H.Ec.
First the bad news.
There are no superhero magical foods.
There are no foods that can cure any disease.
There is no magic bullet.
And now the good news.
Your best proactive move to live a long and healthy life is following a healthy lifestyle. One that includes eating back to basic foods, exercising, setting up coping strategies for stress, getting a good night’s sleep, cultivating friendships, having a positive attitude and eating loads of fibre-rich foods. And I’m cheering for fibre-rich foods.
And if there ever was a group of foods that could qualify for superhero status, then it would be fibre-rich foods, because they are your allies in the fight against chronic diseases.
Research commissioned and published in 2019 by the WHO (not the rock band but the World Health Organization) found that the people who followed a fibre-rich eating style have a reduction in heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colorectal and breast cancers. All you need is 25 to 30 g per day, with 30 g being the better amount to aim for.
Why all the hype on fibre? What does fibre do?
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest, and because it cannot be broken down into sugar molecules like most other carbohydrates, it passes through the body undigested. And that’s a very good thing.
Here are the pluses for following a fibre-rich eating plan:
- These undigested carbohydrates help keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel, instead of ricocheting around like a crazed pinball machine. This is a tremendous plus for anyone living with diabetes. Bonus: eating a fibre-rich diet can help you reduce your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Fibre also makes you feel full, which in turn can help you eat less calories which can lead to weight loss. Add to the mix that fibre-rich foods tend to have less calories while making you feel fuller, and this is another win/win in the weight loss category.
- Fibre can also help reduce your chances of developing heart disease.
- Eating a diet full of fabulously fibre-rich foods may decrease the chances of developing diverticulitis by decreasing the pressure in the colon, which decreases the formation of diverticula.
- The Nurses’ Health Study, the longest study that looks at health and women, points to diets that are rich in fibre and their ability to reduce your chances of developing breast cancer.
That’s five powerful reasons to eat fibre-rich foods. I’m hoping you are wondering, where do you find fibre rich foods? That’s easy.
Think plants. If it was a plant, it’ll contain fibre.
Vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, dried peas, chickpeas, whole grains, seeds and nuts. Mother Nature equipped our diets with so many fibre-rich options I’m always surprised most Canadians don’t even come close to the recommended amounts. Most Canadians average around 14 g per day, about half of what we need.
Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for flaxseed.
This is one of my favourite Canadian fibre sources. That wee little seed, a mere 2 Tbsp of ground flaxseed, contributes 4 g of fibre plus omega-3 fatty acids, which is great for your heart and your brain. And if that isn’t excellent enough, flaxseed contains both types of fibre: soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble helps keep your blood sugars on an even keel and the insoluble fibres keep everything moving.
I add 2-3 Tbsp of ground Canadian flaxseed to my yogurt or oat bran cereal every single morning.
But, and there’s always a but, buyer beware: if you’ve never met flaxseed, start off slowly, adding 1 tsp of ground every day for at least 2 weeks. Then add another ground teaspoon, keep slowly adding it until you are at 2 Tbsp of ground flaxseed. Stay there for at least 2 months before you start adding another extra teaspoon of ground flaxseed to allow your digestive system to adjust.
You’ve probably noticed I keep mentioning ground, it’s for a reason. Flaxseed may be tiny, but it’s got a tough outer shell. Our teeth can’t do a good enough job breaking down the seed, which means you won’t be able to absorb the omega-3 fatty acids or the other amazing nutrients packed inside. Grind it up and it becomes a treasure chest of good-for-you nutrients.
The exception is a roasted flaxseed produced by CanMar Foods, a company in Saskatchewan. They roast their flaxseeds causing the outer shell to crack. Cracked shell? Better chance for your teeth and gut to do their work to break it down. As a bonus, roasted flaxseed has a nuttier flavour.
Another one of my favourite sources of fibre is barley, also grown right here in Canada.
Yes, you can drink foods made from barley, but (there’s that but again), they contain no fibre at all. Cook a pot of beef and barley soup and your body will be doing a happy dance. Try cooking a pot of barley and using it as a whole grain to serve with dinner instead of rice or potatoes. Barley is loaded with soluble fibre and is a bonus for anyone trying to add more fibre to their eating style.
Oats, oh, wonderful fibre rich oats.
Eat them for breakfast, add them to a cookie, use them for a topping on a crisp or a crumble. Why the hype on oats? It’s the beta-D-glucans, a type of soluble fibre, that are responsible for all the pluses in oats. Your liver is on a mission to find cholesterol. It is believed that beta-D-glucans prevent the re-absorption of bile which forces your liver to get its cholesterol from your blood. The beta-glucans in your blood in turn sops up the bad LDL cholesterol.
I like to envision it as a drain cleaner commercial – the foamy cleaners unplugging your arteries as they go. The oat fibre may also bind to any cholesterol in your intestine by soaking it up and escorting out it of your body. Health Canada recognizes the power of oat fibre and allows oats to carry a health claim stating that oat fibre helps reduce cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. My recommendation? Eat your oats.
Pulses. The Wonderful World of Pulses, aka beans, chickpeas, lentils and dried peas are all grown in Canada.
Economical and loaded with fibre as well as vitamins and minerals, I’m a pulse lover. Cook from scratch or buy already cooked in a can. I add pulses to soups, stews and salads. Pureed, they become a nutrient-dense dip.
With so many sources of fibre-rich foods grown right here in the Great North, we have the chance to support our long-term health as well as our Canadian farmers. And that, my friends is a win/win.