Spring Clean your Digestive System

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Spring is in the air! And with it, comes the desire to freshen up! Spring is the time for “cleaning” as many people deep clean their house, prune their trees, even update their wardrobes. Some of us (I might be speaking for myself here…) ceremoniously lock away our coats in hopes that we won’t be needing them any longer! Wishful thinking, I know, but there’s something so exciting about new beginnings and a change in the weather. The extra warmth in the air also helps us say goodbye to some of the “comfort foods” of winter namely; rich baked goods, creamy soups, cheesy casseroles, or large roasts with potatoes. After all of this heavy fare, our bowels could use a little spring cleaning themselves! The best way to revamp your diet, clean out your system, and get you back to feeling vibrant and healthy is to eat more fiber.

Focusing on fiber is one of the best things you can do to boost your health. Fiber, also known as “roughage” isn’t digested by your body and consists of plant material that you can’t break down. Many people rely on fiber to help with appetite control, but it can do much more than keep you full! There are many benefits of a high fiber diet including; better insulin sensitivity, lower body weight, better blood pressure and blood lipid profiles, even a decreased risk of cancer! So how does one little nutrient do so much? First, let’s talk about the two main types of fiber and what they do in the body to understand why you should be eating them. Both types of fiber are important to insure that your digestion is healthy and happy while ridding your digestive tract of unwanted wastes.

  1. Insoluble: This is the bulky stuff. The bran, the plant hulls, the chewy outer coating of nuts and seeds, the skins of fruits and vegetables, the stringy stalks of celery…you get the picture. This adds “roughage” to the diet and acts like a brush going through your digestive tract helping to “clean you out” as you might say. It also helps keep you regular. Insoluble fiber bulks up stools with plant matter which holds on to water, making them more lose and easier to pass. This is the type of fiber you hear about for good colon health as it keeps things moving and cleans out the bowels.
  2. Soluble fiber: This fiber is a little different as it isn’t as bulky and is more mucilaginous. Soluble fiber is found in things like fruit, oats, root vegetables, legumes, and slippery seeds like chia, psyllium and flax. This is the stuff we hear about for a healthy heart as it is important for binding and excreting fats (especially cholesterol) and bile salts in the diet. Soluble fiber also helps with regularity and overall digestive system health.

Both soluble and insoluble fiber have an extra role in promoting health. They can both be used as a food source for your gut microbiome. We all have bacteria in our large intestine that do everything from support our immune system, to create important vitamins (K and B12) for our bodies. Resent research has shown that they do even more than that! An unhealthy balance of good and bad bacteria is associated with diabetes, depression, even obesity. The good news is that the beneficial bacteria that everyone wants for optimal health feed on fiber! We call this fibrous food “pre-biotics.” Our gut microbes have the enzymes necessary to ferment and break down the bonds in fiber that we can’t, so they use these undigested particles as a food source. It’s the perfect system! We eat fiber to help clean out our system and feed our gut microbes (which in turn do many great things for our health) all while feeling full, keeping us regular, but providing very few calories! *Remember if we aren’t able to fully digest it, we aren’t absorbing all the calories it contains!

So you’re convinced you should be getting more fiber, but aren’t sure how to go about it? A word to the wise, start slow. You’ve got to give your body, and those bacteria, a chance to get used to all the extra roughage. If you slowly increase your fiber intake by including higher fiber foods (listed below) while also increasing your fluid intake (all that plant material draws in more water) you give your body time to adjust to the extra load. Most people get around 15 grams of fiber daily, that’s well below the recommended amount of 25 grams for women and 38 for men per day. Increase by a few grams each day to insure you don’t experience the bloating and flatulence associated with overloading your system with more fiber than it can handle at the time. Your body will get used to the higher fiber diet as you ease in to it and you’ll notice the benefits immediately!

Here are my top 5 foods for boosting fiber intake while getting other benefits as well! Notice the preference for whole foods like vegetables, or chia seeds rather than “fiber powders”

  1. Lentils – 16 grams of fiber per cup and so cheap! They don’t need to be soaked before they’re cooked like beans do so they are very convenient. They are extremely versatile, try them in soups, dal, salads, or even sprouted on sandwiches!
  2. Artichokes -10 grams per vegetable and only 60 calories! Artichokes are truly the ultimate diet food because they are rich in antioxidants, fiber, low in calories and they take forever to eat! By the time you eat the whole vegetable, you’ve taken plenty of time to enjoy your meal and satisfy your hunger cues (which can take up to 20 minutes before your brain gets the message).
  3. Raspberries – 8 grams per cup and so delicious! These summer berries are not only some of the most delicious things you can add to a bowl of oatmeal, but are packed with fiber, vitamin C, and low in calories.
  4. Chia Seeds – 10 grams in 1 ounce (about 2 Tbsp chia seeds) and nearly taste-less makes this seed the best way to sneak in extra fiber! Just re-hydrate the seeds with a liquid of choice (water, juice, milk) and enjoy these seeds mixed into yogurt, oats, dressings, smoothies, or even added to pureed fruit to make homemade pectin and sugar-free jam!
  5. Black Beans – 15 grams of fiber per cup and so filling! Include more of these fiber and protein-packed morsels by putting them on everything from breakfast burritos, salads, or rice bowl. These beans are so creamy that you can also puree them and add them to brownies or chocolate muffins for extra protein and fiber!

Other foods worth an honorable mention: peas, lima beans, broccoli, blackberries, pears and avocados (yes! Even with a creamy texture avocados are high in fiber!) Enjoy these foods as part of a healthy diet, but also to help support your own “spring cleaning” of your system! It’s amazing how just a little cleaning can make you feel so much better!

Easy 1-Pot “Dal”

This simple Indian recipe features quick cooking red lentils and can be served with rice, naan bread, or over toast with eggs. The flavor is mild, if desired you can double the spices for more heat and Indian flavor!

Serves: 3-4

Total Prep Time: 40 Minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ½ yellow onion
  • 2 carrots, chopped fine
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 1 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • ½ tsp dried ginger
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ¾ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro

Directions:

Simmer all ingredients for 30-35 minutes or until vegetables are tender and the lentils have soaked up all of the liquid. Serve warm.

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