Leigh-Anne Wooten MS, RDN/LDN, FAND, LSS BB
When you think chia – what’s the first recipe that comes to mind? For many, it’s that delicious bowl of seeds soaked in your favorite milk with spices, toppings and a dash of something sweet. The beloved gooey Chia Pudding
But Did You Know…
That the sticky component of this dish is actually a soluble fiber, also known as mucilage? How cool is it that you can actually see the fiber in action from these tiny little seeds!
Nearly all plants produce some amount of mucilage because of it’s great defense mechanisms: storing water for the plant, acting as a barrier by forming a protective layer on plant ‘wounds’ and aiding in germination (when plants grow from a seed into a real plant).
There are however a few plants that are extremely rich in this fiber including succulents like aloe and cacti (but who wants to eat that), some types of seaweed, (eh, maybe) and a few seeds like chia (yes, please!).
This gelatinous secretion is a type of soluble fiber that has many health benefits including:
Lowering bad LDL cholesterol
So, how can something like fiber can be thisgood for you? Spend two minutes doing a google search and one can quickly become overwhelmed by all of the medical and scientific jargon like microbiomes, viscosity and fermentation. Let’s simplify the topic because fiber, while not the sexiest nutrient out there, is a powerhouse when it comes to your health. The more researchers study it, the more benefits they find. And given that most Americans only get about half of the fiber they need, it’s safe to say we could all learn a thing or two. Let’s start by talking about the different types of fiber.
Wait, There’s More Than One Kind?
Yep! Historically, fibers have been described as insoluble (fiber that does not dissolve in water) or soluble (fiber that dissolves in water) but emerging research is showing that a fiber’s ability to be dissolved is not always tied to its health effects. So, scientists and healthcare professionals are starting to move away from terms ‘soluble’ and ‘insoluble’ and focus more on categorizing fiber by its functional health benefit.
Lignins? Pectins? Psyllium? Do any of those words ring a bell? Those, in addition to mucilage are just a few types of fiber. This table is a great comparison chart listing out the type of fiber, what foods it is found in and associated health benefits.
How Does it Work?
Fiber works on your behalf by:
1. Increasing the size and weight of your stool (reducing constipation and improving bowel movement regularity)
2. Thickening the gastrointestinal contents (helping to lower blood cholesterol and lower the glycemic impact of foods)
3. Increasing the activity of good bacteria in the gut (basically food - aka prebiotics- for the good bacteria)
Although many dietary fibers provide more than one benefit, no one fiber provides all of them.
So, it is important to eat many types of dietary fibers to maximize health benefits.
OK, So Where Do I Find Fiber?
It’s pretty simple and yet somehow tough to get the fiber we need each day. Adult women should aim for at least 25 grams per day, while men should try to get at least 38 grams. Yet only 5% of Americans get this much. Eating a more plant-based diet that includes a wide variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains (and seeds like CHIA!) is the best way to get the right amount and variety of fiber needed.
Word to the Wise
As you go on your adventure to eating better, living better and incorporating more fiber into your diet, please do so gradually! When your system isn’t used to fiber, suddenly increasing your intake can lead to cramps and bloating, especially if you don’t drink enough water to help the fiber move through your gut. Instead, gradually ramp up the amount of fiber-rich foods in your diet and make sure to drink water!