Imagine eating 12 pounds of food a day — and still staying thin and healthy! That may sound crazy, but it’s exactly what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate for millennia. Of course, I wouldn’t advise anyone today to eat 12 pounds of food, because the food in our society lacks one major ingredient that our ancestors ate in nearly all their food — fiber!
Eat like a bushman
Dr. Dennis Burkitt, a famous English physician, studied the differences between indigenous African bushmen and their “civilized” western counterparts. The bushmen seemed to be free of the scourges of modern life — including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Dr. Burkitt found that the average bushman had a stool weight of 2 pounds and the “civilized” man had a stool weight of only 4 ounces — that’s 87.5 percent smaller! The difference was in the amount of fiber they ate.
Today, the average American eats about 8 grams of fiber a day. But the average hunter and gatherer ate 100 grams from all manner of roots, berries, leaves and plant foods. And that fiber is what helped those ancestors of ours stay healthy.
In fact, fiber can actually prevent obesity and all the chronic diseases of aging. This is because fiber slows the rate at which food enters your bloodstream and increases the speed at which food exits your body through the digestive tract. That keeps your blood sugar and cholesterol in ideal balance, eliminates toxins from your gut and reduces your appetite.
Fiber has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer by as much as a third and breast cancer by almost 40 percent. It also reduces the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent. And if you have diabetes, adding fiber to your diet may even help you use less insulin: Research shows that fiber can lower blood sugar as much as some diabetes medications! Plus, it’s a great natural cure for constipation and irregularity and can promote natural weight loss.
Getting enough daily fiber
You should shoot to get 30 to 50 grams of fiber into your diet every day. The type of fiber you choose is important, too.
Most people think that bran is the best type of fiber to eat. But bran (wheat fiber) is mostly insoluble and doesn’t get digested. Think of it as more of a scouring pad for your intestines. That’s good for getting you regular, but it just can’t help your health the way that soluble fiber can.
You’ll find soluble fiber in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and most whole grains. The bacteria in your gut metabolizes the soluble fiber in these foods, and that’s when the benefits start.
Glucomannan: The benefits of super fiber
There have been some recent discoveries regarding an ancient fiber source that can help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol, reduce your appetite and lower your blood sugar more effectively than any other fiber. It’s called glucomannan, but I call it super fiber!
Glucomannan is a soluble, fermentable and highly viscous dietary fiber that comes from the root of the elephant yam, also known as konjac, which is native to Asia. What makes this fiber so super is the fact that it can absorb up to 50 times its weight in water — making it one of the most viscous dietary fibers known.
That means that glucomannan can help you shed pounds. In many studies, doses of 2 to 4 grams of glucomannan per day were well-tolerated and resulted in significant weight loss in overweight and obese individuals.
Glucomannan works by promoting a sense of fullness. Plus, it pushes more calories out through your colon, rather than letting them be absorbed. It also lowers the energy density of the food you eat. In other words, it bulks up food in your gut — creating a lower calorie content per weight of food you eat.
This powerful fiber may also control your appetite in other key ways. For example, it sends signals to your brain that there is a lot of food in your gut and tells it to slow down on stuffing food in there.
Glucomannan leaves your stomach and small bowel slowly because it is so viscous. By slowing the rate of food absorption from the gut to the bloodstream, glucomannan reduces the amount of insulin produced after a meal, which also controls your appetite.
Glucomannan can also help your health in other ways. In addition to weight reduction, glucomannan has been studied for its effects on constipation, serum cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure and insulin resistance syndrome.
With all those benefits, there’s no doubt you should eat more fiber. No, you probably won’t be eating 12 pounds of food like your ancestors did, but you can increase your fiber intake just by being smart about what you eat.
9 tips for increasing the fiber in your diet
- Get the flax. Eat 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds a day. Sprinkle it on salads, grains or vegetable dishes, or mix it in a little unsweetened applesauce.
- Load up on legumes. Beans beat out everything else for fiber content!
- Bulk up on vegetables. With low levels of calories and high levels of antioxidants and protective phytochemicals, these excellent fiber sources should be heaped on your plate daily.
- Go with the grain. Whole grains like brown rice or quinoa are rich in fiber.
- Eat more fruit. Include a few servings of low-sugar fruits to your diet daily. (Berries are the highest in fiber and other protective phytochemicals.)
- Go nuts. Include a few handfuls of almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts in your diet every day.
- Start slowly. Switching abruptly to a high-fiber diet can cause gas and bloating. Increase your fiber intake slowly until you get up to 50 grams a day.
- Consider a good fiber supplement. If you’re having trouble getting your fill of fiber, choose a supplement that contains both soluble and insoluble fiber and no sweeteners or additives.
- Choose glucomannan. Many companies sell glucomannan in capsule form. I like the one produced by Natural Factors called WellBetX. You can take two to four capsules with a glass of water, 30 to 60 minutes before eating. Don’t take any medications within one hour before or two hours after taking it because the fiber may absorb the medication.
As you can see, fiber has big benefits for your health — from encouraging weight loss to preventing chronic diseases. I hope you’ll start adding more of this important compound into your diet today!
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.