Everyone is always talking about protein and fiber, but do you know why they are such important components of a healthy diet?
Protein and fiber are commonly recommended to help curb hunger and cravings as they help to balance your blood sugar and keep energy levels stable.
Protein is an essential macronutrient for our cells as it provides the body with the building blocks to build our body tissues and perform more functions than any other nutrient. It is also the largest component of our body, only after water.
Fiber is a class of non digestible carbohydrates which means it works a little bit differently as it is not digested by us but by our gut microbes. It is the main fuel source for our gut bacteria who rely on fiber to reproduce and thrive. Understanding why and how to incorporate them into your diet is essential in order to maintain good health.
Fiber is an essential component of a heathy diet, however many of us are missing the mark on fiber intake.
Fiber is exclusively a nutrient found in plants, which is why it is lacking in the typical diet that is predominatly based around refined carbohydrates and animal fats.
As the processing of food is taking over the food supply, fiber intake is simultaneously going down.
The recommended daily amount varies typically between 25-40 grams of fiber per adult. However the average Canadian consumption is only about half that much averaging at around 14 grams per day (1).
A high fiber diet is associated with a decreased risk of chronic disease, even suggesting up to a 30% decrease in all-cause mortality when compared to low fiber diets (2).
Promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria
Fiber is a fuel source for the beneficial microbes residing in our gut as we humans do not have the capacity to digest fiber ourselves.
Also known as prebiotics, these compounds encourage the growth of our microbes who are essential to building a healthy immune response, defending against infection, and calming inflammation.
Reduces cravings and increase satiety
The type of food you eat can contribute to or decrease cravings. One of the top foods to fight cravings is fiber.
Why is this? Fiber stretches and adds bulk to the stomach, activating the satiety messages to the brain signalling you are full and content and reducing hunger pangs (3).
It also supports the stabilization of blood sugar, making it less likely for that blood sugar crash to appear promoting cravings for things like sweets and high carb foods. This in turn may influence weight management by regulating caloric intake and supporting weight loss (4).
Stabilizes blood sugar
Fiber found in complex carbohydrate sources such as fruits, vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, whole grains, and legumes can help to slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream compared to simple carbohydrates. This means fiber can contribute to better blood glucose control.
In fact, higher fiber intake has been associated with lower blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes, which means a fiber rich diet may help to prevent as well as treat conditions such as type 2 diabetes (5)(6).
Supports healthy digestion and reduces the risk of gastrointestinal diseases
Of course it goes to say fiber is essential to a healthy gut. But how so?
As mentioned fiber is the fuel source for our healthy gut bacteria, contributing to a robust gut environment and strengthening the gut barrier.
Fiber also helps to bulk up the stool promoting the removal of waste, reducing the risk of constipation and the build up of toxins in the body.
Regular intake of fiber has been associated with a decrease risk of gastrointestinal diseases such as colorectal cancer, diverticular disease, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease (7)(8).
Supports detoxification of waste and toxins
As fiber helps to bulk up the stool and move waste through the digestive tract to be excreted, it plays a pivotal role in the detoxification process, and more precisely phase III of the detoxification process.
When toxins are made water soluble by the liver and ready to be excreted, they will attach to bile in the digestive tract where they bind onto stool to be eliminated from the body via a bowel movement.
If you do not have sufficient fiber they may be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream promoting a build up of harmful compounds.
Protects against cardiovascular disease
As one of the leading killers in Western Society, cardiovascular disease is largely a preventable disease that can be avoided with dietary changes.
Fiber is a heart healthy food that can help to prevent and even reverse heart disease due to its ability to decrease cholesterol, lower inflammation, and improve insulin resistance (9).
Studies have associated higher fiber intake with a lowered risk of incidences and mortality from cardiovascular disease (10)(11).
Protein is an essential macronutrient that we need to receive in our diet in order to build our tissues, produce energy, fight infections, maintain acid alkaline balance and more.
It's important to eat enough protein but many of us may be eating too much due to high intake of animal protein in the diet, which is happening in many industrialized countries who are over-consuming meat and dairy products.
The recommended daily amount of protein will differ depending on factors such as age and activity levels however per the average adult 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is ideal. It's actually not as much as we tend to think!
However certain populations such as athletes, highly active individuals, and the elderly may have more difficulty obtaining adequate protein from their diet which is where dietary supplements like protein powders can be useful.
Stabilizes blood sugar
Including protein at every meal can help to keep blood sugar levels stable as protein takes longer to break down and be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Protein is also highly satiating and can provide a longer lasting source of energy compared to carbohydrates.
Supports immune function
You may not think of protein when it comes to building a strong immune system, but it's vital!
Protein is involved in the creation of various compounds and substances that can fight infections and protect the body from invaders such as enzymes, antibodies, stomach acid, immune cells, mucus membranes and of course our skin.
Reduces cravings and increases satiety
Due to its ability to stabilize blood sugar during a meal and increase satiety, protein can be very helpful in reducing cravings and overeating.
Eating protein suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin while boosting the peptide YY, which is why we tend to feel fuller after a meal that includes protein (12)(13).
Eating a protein rich breakfast can make a significant difference in appetite and cravings during the day making you less likely to overindulge (14).
Builds important components in the body
Every tissue and organ is made up of protein.
Protein makes up the structure of our cells and tissues and is also essential to build collagen, hormones, antibodies, enzymes, and neurotransmitters.
This is why protein is essential in the diet as it will affect your skin, hair, nails, but also your ability to fend off pathogens and infections as well as perform cognitive and physical functions.
Protein is an important energy source for the body, however it is only used after sources such as carbohydrates have been used up. If levels of glucose and fats are low the body will then tap into protein stores for its energy requirements.
This is why getting enough dietary protein is a factor to consider when it comes to fatigue and poor performance.
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