What single item can literally make you use up more calories, while helping you feel full faster & stay feeling satisfied longer? The single answer is unprocessed foods…and more specifically…the fiber they contain. Unprocessed foods are more difficult for your digestive system to break down. It actually has to work much harder, and this effort burns calories. This means you can use up to 70 more calories digesting an unprocessed meal, as compared to a highly processed one. But…70 calories isn’t that much. Sure, it’s a minor bonus but it’s not going to do a lot by itself. What’s really here to shine is the ability of unprocessed, fiber-rich foods to make you feel full faster and stay full longer.
Hunger is often a main enemy for people trying to lose weight.
When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to give in to cravings, eat too much of something (that would have otherwise been fine) or feel run down/low energy. Unprocessed foods help with all three issues here, but what exactly are they, and what can you do to take advantage? This type of foods includes whole foods (where you eat the whole thing) like fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. But, also included are leafy greens and unprocessed (or low-processed) whole grains. When you look at how lots of these are processed, you can find 1 thing in common: the removal of fiber. Fruit into juice, wheat into flour, the ‘process’ referred to us taking fiber out, and sometimes cooking or adding sugars in.
Why is fiber helpful?
The body can’t break down either kind of fiber (soluble, nor insoluble) for nutrition. It won’t give you any energy, and it won’t add any calories. It’s this exact ‘doesn’t appear to do much’ property though, that makes it as helpful as it is. Because it can’t be broken down, it slows down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugars for steadier energy. Soluble fiber can’t be used for nutrition by your body, but it can be used by beneficial bacteria (the probiotics in yogurt & other foods) which then, in turn, protect you from harmful bacteria, extract more nutrients from the food you eat, and provide a line of defense against viruses. Soluble fiber, by its very name suggests an association with water…and it’s true, but insoluble fiber also helps with hydration. Both types of fiber, when mixed in with food, keep that food hydrated all through the digestive process, including the intestines. Good nutrients and bad byproducts are gathered and dismissed in the intestine…but only if there’s enough water to move the food smoothly.
Taking up space:
Hunger is controlled by a few factors, and a big one is "space". All food takes up some room as it’s eaten and broken down…but if someone eats a small, but calorically dense food like a cookie with frosting cream all over it, that’s not going to take up a lot of room. Hunger could arise again soon after—but it wouldn’t be really ‘justified’ because of all the calories. The body is used to calories that take up space. For an extreme example, can you guess what two items have about the same amount of calories as a whole pound of spinach?
Did you give it a try?
The answer is just two of the popular cookie brand that starts with O and ends with O & always features cream in the middle. No one’s going to sit and eat a pound of spinach, but they’ll easily go through more than two of these sandwich-type cookies. With this example, you can see the true power of fiber to help people feel full and stay that way.
How about cutting cravings for unhealthy items? That’s also something fiber can do, because certain kinds of bad bacteria can create cravings for more of what THEY want, which may not be good for you. Sugar loving bacteria might release a chemical that your body mistakes for a signal to eat more sugar. Fiber feeds good-guy bacteria (the probiotics) and they, in turn, stamp out the bad bacteria. Also, keeping food moving smoothly through the digestive system doesn’t let the bad guys have as much of a chance to hang around and disrupt your day with their common side-effects like excess gas, bloated feelings, & cravings.
Now how about taste…
There’s a reason processing is removing fiber from foods & it’s sometimes about flavor. Whole grain bread with thick texture & wheaty flavor may not be as appealing to some people as a soft and fluffy white loaf. Also, from the example earlier, spinach may be fine for a salad but a couple of cookies are pretty much always going to be more appealing than handfuls of the stuff. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get around the taste obstacle, and one of the easiest is a seed. The chia seed is the high fiber seed with so much of both kinds of fiber that you can actually see it. (Most soluble fiber is so small, its invisible to the naked eye) Its other remarkable property is that it has no flavor. Everything else on the menu is going to taste like something, and that means someone out there won’t like it. However, with chia’s flavor-free nature you can use it to add fiber to things you already like to eat. Having a white-bread sandwich? Sprinkle a batch of chia seeds into the PB (for your PB&J) or on the mustard…or really anything where they’ll stick. Now, you get the bread you prefer and the fiber you need. It’s easy enough to do at any meal, and it even works in cold drinks.
What are unprocessed choices?
Making unprocessed choices can be easy and delicious at any meal. Put oats on the menu for breakfast instead of boxed cereal, bagels, donuts or pancakes on most days. Whole grain oats are extremely versatile—much more so than most people suspect. They can create anything from a cool mango-lime smoothie to a warm bowl of chocolate almond-butter delight when you have the recipes for Overnight Oatmeal. (Completely changes the texture, and flavors are endless!) Having eggs? They’re good protein, but they’re a fiber-free food, so a sprinkle of chia into the omelet or scramble will give you the fiber you need to stay full until lunch. Juicing or blending? Juicing removes the fruit’s fiber but leaves all the sugar. You can achieve the same great flavors in the blender as you can the juicer. The other option is to juice something that doesn’t blend well (a carrot, or ginger root for example) then add the juice to your blended drink where you used blender-friendly fruits like apples, mangoes or strawberries.
There are plenty of ways and recipes to help you with unprocessed choices and fiber rich whole foods all over the internet and in articles. Now that you know the benefits of fiber, what foods have more of it, and how it will help you, it’s time to get it on the menu. But, remember: chia seeds are basically the best way to cheat your way to the top of the daily value for fiber…but they can’t take care of every nutrient. Colorful fruits, crunchy nuts, fresh or frozen berries and good grains all combine for more power and better health, because like it or not, you really are what you eat.