(sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. It also means "in a direction opposite to the usual," which is how I choose to take it in using it as the title of this blog. We're all in the same world finding our own way.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

High Fiber Diet

So if you know me for long enough, you'll learn that I'm obsessed with fiber. It is, after all, essential to a well-balanced diet and healthy poops. My former roommate David can attest that I would frequently play games of "Where can Danny hide the fiber?" when making dinner for myself and Ethan. Blame it on an anal fixation (thanks Freud) and the results of volunteering in the endoscopy department of a hospital for a year and a half (thanks to the good people of Skagit Regional Hospital). So let me bestow on you all kinds of knowledge you never wanted to know about fiber. But first, a poem:

An Organic Grocer Haiku

Chia seeds, flax seeds
Hemp, sesame, pumpkin seeds
What are we now, birds?

What is fiber?

Fiber. You know, fiber. It's the stuff in the Cheerios commercial. The thing the little kid reads will help lower your cholesterol. It's in oats and vegetables and stuff. But what is it?

Dietary fiber, is a substance in plants, a type of carbohydrate that the human body can't digest into smaller sugars. It comes in two types classified on their ability to dissolve-in or absorb water. Soluble fiber dissolves in water. Insoluble doesn't. There's also what's called functional fiber that's all the manufactured versions and chemically isolated types of soluble and insoluble fiber. Which is just one of many ways scientists have found to classify types of fiber over the years.

To keep things simple, I'll use the idea that soluble fiber slows digestion and insoluble moves things along.

Ew poop!

You can't talk about fiber without inevitably bringing up a number two. 

You probably know how prune juice is supposed to reduce your chances of constipation. But have you ever read the nutritional label to see how much fiber is in it? Three grams of fiber (depending on the size of the cup). Compare that to the three grams in your standard microwave packet of oatmeal and you'll quickly realize that's a good amount.

Soluble and insoluble fiber are both good for you in different ways. When the Cheerios commercial says it helps lower bad cholesterol, it means they're high in soluble fiber such as the kind found in the oats that Cheerios are made out of.  Soluble fiber is also the kind of fiber that helps control your blood sugar levels. They're also highly fermentable which means the "good" bacteria that live in the human intestinal tract can digest it. They help you digest it so you can absorb more nutrients. It's the insoluble fiber though that keeps you regular. 

What's good for your poop is good for you

For over a year I volunteered once a week in the endoscopy department of a hospital. If you don't know what an endocopy is, it's where they take a flexible camera and (gently) rotor rooter it through your colon to see if everything's going okay (colonscopy) or down your throat into your stomach (upper endoscopy). Don't worry, they get thoroughly sanitized between uses. If the thought of either causes you to clench or activates your gag reflex, they almost always put you out with mild anesthesia before you go under.  The nurses were friendly and funny, the patients occasionally a little loopy. I learned a lot. For example, the procedure is covered by most insurance companies as an investigative procedure to look at symptoms but not necessarily as a screening procedure (like is recommended for anyone over 50)*. 

I also heard a lot of diagnoses. Everything from hemorrhoids and ulcers to diverticulitis (inflammation of diverticuli or small pockets in the intestinal wall caused by weakening of the muscles lining your intestine, common with age) and colorectal polyps. And the number one phrase I heard to help treat most of these: "high fiber diet."* 

Soluble fiber makes your stool softer and insoluble fiber helps bulk it up, which together make for solid, easy poops. No straining. No constipation. A quicker, cleaner toilet operation all around.

*as I am not a certified medical professional or insurance agent, always check with your individual healthcare and insurance providers to determine your symptoms, treatment, and what is and isn't covered.

Sources and supplementation


Oats, beans, whole wheat, vegetables, fruit, nut and seeds are all good sources of fiber. Obviously this is the number one nutritionist and doctor supported ideal. By eating whole foods you're getting all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients with your fiber. It's variety and color and not the meat-paired-with-processed-white typical of a Standard American Diet. 

There have been studies recently looking at the differences between people in remote hunter-gatherer societies' diets and people from industrialized nations and the most significant differences have been in fiber intake. Given how this feeds and changes the microbiome of your intestinal tract, you'd think there'd be a bigger push to get people eating their fiber. 


Not everybody eats the perfect diet all the time and maybe even if you are eating plenty of vegetables and whatnot you're still falling short of the clinically recommended 30-35g daily (38g for men). That's where supplements come in.

Most supplements are some form of psyllium husk or powder. Think Metamucil or Benefiber brands. They can be a little gritty and if you don't drink it fast enough can clump up in your glass. They're easy to make, convenient to mix into your regular drinks, and fairly cheap for how much you get.

Whole food supplements

Supplements don't have to be just fiber though. There are actually plenty of whole foods that are packed with fiber (and other vitamins, minerals and other nutrients). My favorite are flaxseed and chia seeds, they're called superfoods by all the magazines for a reason. They're packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein along with omega-3 fatty acids all for a fairly moderate amount. I put a small handful (this is a very precise measuring method equal to about two tablespoons) of flaxseed in my daily breakfast smoothie (I have one of those NutriBullets, the Magic Bullet 2.0 and it blends ANYTHING) and sometimes mix chia seeds with hemp milk to sit overnight almost like a vegan pudding (a little sugar, maybe some matcha powder if I have it).


Fiber and poop aren't exactly the most fun things to talk about. I get it. And preventing slow-acting diseases and ailments of the body is by no means sexy (unless you think being healthy is sexy in which case, mmm, gimme that thick carrot).

A lot of anecdotal evidence (and personal experience) says that higher fiber intake leads to increased sense of fullness. With flaxseed, whole frozen fruits and vegetables and sometimes added pumpkin and chia seed in the mix, my breakfast smoothies usually clock in at about 30-40% of my RDV fiber in one sitting and I'm usually good afterward until at least lunch time. So if you're trying to lose weight, adding more fiber can be one of those dietary changes you make to get yourself to eat less (or at least differently).

I heard it on Oprah once, but where the fiber goes, water goes. Think of it this way: dietary fiber is essentially little bits of plant sponge and if you have them dried out, they'll suck as much water out of your gut as they can. Since so many of us are bordering on mildly dehydrated to begin with, you can see how this might be a problem. As I've increased my fiber intake, I've also vastly increased my water intake to match and I feel better and more hydrated for it.

tl;dr fiber is good for you, eat more fiber-rich food.

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