When thinking about dieting and IIFYM, these are the four parameters our minds tend to drift to. And while, as flexible dieters, we don’t believe in the idea of foods being good or bad, we don’t go out of our way to eat a load of junk food either.
Still, people question whether following the if it fits your macros style of dieting is healthy. They wonder if you can get all your calories and macros purely from processed, nutrient-deficient foods.
And I guess, in a way, you could … if a true flexible diet didn’t also include one very important factor – fibre.
What is Fibre?
Fibre comes in two forms – soluble and insoluble.
The soluble kind is found in foods like oats, fruit, root vegetables and some seeds, and can be digested by your body.
Insoluble on the other hand passes straight through you, and you get it from wholemeal and whole-grain products, bran, cereals and nuts.
Soluble fibre’s main role is to keep you healthy, by improving your cholesterol profile, whereas the insoluble stuff is mainly used in digestion, as it adds bulk to faeces as aids with food passing through you.
While that might not be a topic of conversation for the dinner party table, it’s important to know why you need fibre, next time someone asks you just why you’re eating sweet potato, rolled oats and apples for your carbs, when in theory you could be stuffing your face with Pop Tarts, pretzels and Fruit Loops.
What is It Good For?
Aside form the above cholesterol and digestive benefits, fibre has plenty of critical roles to play.
A higher fibre intake is linked with reducing your risk of pretty much every disease known to modern day society – cancer, heart disease, arteriosclerosis, IBS … you name it, eating more fibre will likely help to protect you from it.
From a dieting standpoint, it’s seriously important too.
Due to the role it plays in digestion, eating more fibre helps keep you feeling full and satiated, which is crucial when dieting and your calories and carbs are reduced.
Look at it like this – you could get 50 grams of carbs from a bowl of sugary cereal, or you could get 50 grams of carbs from broccoli, carrots and peas – which is going to keep you fuller?
The veggies, right?
That fibre slows digestion, adds bulk to food and raises satiety levels.
Sure, there is also the argument that these foods are high volume for the calories in them, but even if you compared that same bowl of kids cereal to a higher-fibre cereal (say puffed wheat, or Bran Flakes) I’d argue the latter, higher-fibre option would keep you going far longer than the former low-fibre cereal.
One final benefit (just in case you needed any more) is that foods that are higher in fibre are nearly always higher in nutrients in general.
All those high fibre foods contain a huge array of vitamins and minerals and other “good stuff.” In fact, aside from products that are artificially fortified with extra fibre (more on those a little later,) I struggle to think of a high-fibre food that anyone could class as “junk.”
How Much Do I Need?
The best way to look at your required fibre intake is as a percentage of your total calorie or carb intake.
As a very base minimum, I’d look at getting 12 grams of fibre for every 1,000 calories.
So if you’re on 2,000 calories per day, that means getting 24 grams of fibre.
More is probably better, and if you dip to, say, 10 grams per 1,000 calories here and there, it’s unlikely to have any detrimental effect, but as much as possible, shoot for 12-15 grams per 1,000 calories.
Alternatively, look more at carb intake (as fibre is a carb.)
Getting between 15 and 25% of your daily carb intake from fibre isn’t a bad shout, as this will typically be enough, but likewise isn’t going to stretch your stomach to oblivion, even when your calories are up higher when bulking.
One other tip is to keep fibre intake relatively stable – having just 15 to 20 grams one day, then 50 grams or higher the next will probably make your guts feel pretty funky as they wonder what the heck’s going on!
Does It All Count?
Much has been made of whether to count fibre in total calorie intake or not, especially since the popularity of the Atkins Diet and net carbs (which basically involves subtracting the fibre from the total carb content and only counting what’s left.)
It is true that fibre is highly thermogenic and not all the calories are absorbed. In fact, only around half the calories in fibre are actually digested, making it more like 2 calories per gram rather than 4 as other carbs have.
That being said, for the amount of fibre most people eat in a day, it’s just not worth the hassle of taking out fibre calories. Keep counting it as a carb, and just look at it as a bonus that you’re not absorbing all the calories.
Finding Your Fibre
To finish up, let’s talk fibre-rich foods.
We have –
All kinds of whole grains
Veggies (any are good, but green beans, sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and similar get particularly reputable mentions.)
All kinds of beans and legumes – kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and so on.
Quest bars. (These are those “questionable” fibre sources I touched on earlier. The fibre in products like these is a little different to what you’d get from “real food.” This isn’t an issue per se, but I’d still try to get fibre mainly from whole foods.)
Getting fibre into your diet doesn’t need to be hard, and actually, ramping up your fibre intake is a sure-fire way to get you feeling fuller and keep you on track for dieting success.