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What You Need To Know About Fiber

What You Need To Know About FiberThis article deals with that food element that everyone sees on plenty of labels and packaging: “Packed with FIBER!” Why is it such a big deal? After all, it’s just another carbohydrate, right?

You’re right, it’s a complex carbohydrate. But it’s a very special one.

Just like other complex carbohydrates, fiber is a polysaccharide (lots of sugar molecules joined together) but what makes it different is the human digestive system can’t break it down, so it passes through your body and is excreted in your feces.

Foods high in fiber (only plants contain fiber like fruits, vegetables and grains) have a lower GI because the high levels of fiber make the food more difficult to digest. The resultant extended digestion time means glucose is released more slowly into your blood stream over a longer period of time and your insulin response is much less.

Soluble and Insoluble Fiber

There are 2 types of fiber:

  1. Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water and
  2. Insoluble fiber, which doesn’t dissolve in water.

Fiber has many health benefits including:

  • Soluble fiber creates an environment in your colon perfect for the proliferation of ‘good’ bacteria, which are important for your health
  • Increases GI of foods, which means your insulin response to the food is less
  • Soluble fiber absorbs water in your intestines and makes you feel full
  • Insoluble finer (roughage) ‘sweeps’ your intestinal tract
  • Bile, which is high in cholesterol, combines with fiber and is excreted in your feces, thereby controlling your cholesterol levels. This process lowers your risk of heart disease and other diseases related to high cholesterol
  • Contributes to the prevention of colonic diseases including cancer
  • Reduces diabetes risk
  • Prevents constipation
  • And more

The average American eats only 12-18 grams of fiber per day but the United States National Academy of Sciences recommends a daily allowance of 20-35 grams per day, almost double!

An additional benefit is that the calories contained in the fiber are not available to your digestive system so even though a high fiber food contains 200 calories for example, much less than that is actually bio-available.

TIP: Follows these tips when increasing the amount of fiber in your diet

  • Drink more water because soluble fiber absorbs water
  • Increase the fiber you eat slowly because too much too soon could result in diarrhea, gas, stomach cramps or constipation
  • Get most of you fiber from fruits, vegetables and grains, avoid using fiber supplements

So you see, fiber is very important in the diet, even though, well, you can’t actually assimilate it into your system. You can’t digest it, but it’s that very quality that helps you lose weight and stay healthy.

So remember: Fiber is your friend!

How Simple-Sugars Make You Fat

How Simple-Sugars Make You FatRemember, your body works hard to maintain your blood-sugar levels within a narrow range. This is done via the secretion of 2 blood-sugar regulating hormones from your pancreas. When your blood-sugar is too low, the pancreas secretes glucagon, stimulating the liver to convert its glycogen stores to glucose and release them into the blood.

And when your blood-sugar is too high, the pancreas secretes insulin, stimulating your liver to convert blood glucose into glycogen for storage in liver and muscle cells to lower your blood-sugar. However, they’re not the only actions resulting from increased insulin in your blood. It also increases glucose lipogenesis, which is the conversion of glucose to fatty-acids and then triglycerides in the liver (and to a lesser extent, in fat cells) which are then absorbed into fat cells all over your body.

In other words, eating simple-sugars make you fat. But it doesn’t end there.

When you eat foods high in simple-sugars, the sudden spike in blood glucose causes your pancreas to over-secrete insulin and through the process of glycogenesis and glucose lipogenesis, your blood sugar levels will plummet to levels even lower than before the spike.

So you rapidly go from too much blood-sugar to not enough.

This is called reactive-hypoglycemia.

When this happens, you experience the symptoms of hypoglycemia:

  • Sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased sweating
  • More easily irritated
  • Appetite is stimulated to recover your low-blood sugar levels
  • Crave foods high in sugar to rapidly bring your sugar levels back into the narrow range your body is trying to maintain.

However, the human body evolved to respond this way to hypoglycemia in the absence of processed and manufactured foods.

In nature, foods ultra-high in simple-sugars AND fats are extremely rare, so 100,000 years ago you most likely would have reach for some fruit or a sweet vegetable, which are high in fiber and low in simple-sugars (sweet tasting but containing complex sugar molecules slower to digest.)

But in today’s world, foods high in simple-sugars are everywhere and they are usually also high in bad fats.

You may already see what’s coming…

If you answer the craving for something sweet by eating low-quality but sweet-tasting food your blood sugar levels will spike AGAIN and the cycle of insulin <- ->glucagon secretion from your pancreas will enter another cycle.

Meaning your blood-sugar levels spike, then plummet (reactive-hypoglycemia) until you satisfy your craving for sweet food by eating more junk (very likely also high in bad fats), which spikes your blood-sugar levels again…. and on and on.

Insulin Resistance

This chronic yo-yoing of your blood sugar levels not only continues to add fat to your body, it also makes your cells insulin resistant.

The beta cells of your pancreas are still able to produce insulin but your body cells are less receptive, that is, the insulin receptors on your cells begin to malfunction.

Gerald M. Reaven, M.D., of the Stanford University Medical Center estimates as many as 60-75 million Americans may be insulin resistant.

And endocrinologist Dr Scott Isaacs says in his book “Hormonal Balance” that insulin resistance is the most common hormonal disorder in the world today.

Insulin resistance leads to increased levels of fat and sugars in your blood because if cells are insulin resistant, they are not receiving the message to absorb the excess glucose and fats in your blood.

Your pancreas will compensate by increasing insulin secretion, which will activate your cells to do their job but increased insulin in your blood has other effects.

With increased insulin in your blood, it’s going to become more difficult to control your weight because your brain is stimulated to increase appetite.

Also, the nutrients you consume will be more likely stored as fat rather than used as energy. So you are fatigued AND putting on fat.

If you respond to the increased appetite with more bad carbs, rich in simple-sugars, your cells will become increasingly insulin-resistant until your pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin.

When that happens, blood-sugar becomes chronically high and has a deleterious effect on the pancreas until the beta cells of the pancreas, responsible for insulin production, become less efficient (burnout) and insulin levels decrease. It may take several years of insulin resistance to reach this stage.

This is call prediabetes and if untreated will eventually become type 2 diabetes.

With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that obesity is very strongly linked with diabetes.

How Do I Know If My Cells Are Insulin Resistant?

Insulin resistance is closely related to these indicators. The more that describe you, the more likely it is you have some insulin resistance:

  • Overweight, especially excess belly fat
  • Genetics, a history of obesity or diabetes in your family
  • Physical inactivity
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic illness
  • Mental illness, like depression and anxiety
  • Pregnancy
  • Inflammation
  • Aging
  • Menopause
  • You’re going through puberty (watch your child’s diet closely during puberty)
  • Kidney or liver problems
  • Low potassium (if you’re on diuretics your potassium levels may be low)
  • Low fat/high carb diets
  • Smoking
  • Some medications

What Do I Do If I’m Insulin Resistant?

Before you jump to any conclusions, consult with your doctor to organize a test. There are also less reliable home testing kits called glucometers which measure blood-glucose (measuring insulin levels is not considered reliable).

But most importantly, don’t despair because insulin resistance is curable with a healthy diet and regular exercise, both of which are covered extensively in this book.

Not All Sugars Are Bad

Glucose passes through the liver and directly into the blood. Most processed, sweetened foods are high in glucose and result in a blood-sugar spike and then the insulin rollercoaster.

However, the naturally occurring sugars found in fruits, vegetables, cereals and dairy products are usually slightly more complex, coming in the form of fructose, sucrose, galactose and lactose (SPECIAL NOTE: manufactured fructose is not the same as naturally occurring fructose and very harmful to your body. More on that later).

These sugars need to be first converted to glucose in the liver and so their release into the blood is slower. This is good because the slow release triggers a more moderate secretion of insulin and your blood sugar levels are maintained within healthy parameters.

Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs

Carbohydrates (carbs) can be described as complex or simple.

Complex carbohydrates are polysaccharides, which are long chains of monosaccharides (simple sugars).

These complex carbs require much more processing in your intestine to be broken down and so they consume more calories in digestion and are released into the blood much more slowly so the energy is made available over a longer time period and are more likely to be used rather than stored as unwanted fat.

Simple carbohydrates (sugars) are single monosaccharides or short chains of monosaccharides, which are much more easily digested.

Foods high in simple sugars and also low in fiber are rapidly digested which causes a blood-sugar spike followed by an insulin spike.

Good Carbs (Complex)

Good carbs (carbohydrates) are those that are unprocessed or only moderately processed (for example, lightly milled) and high in complex sugars (polysaccharides).

They include:

  • Fresh fruits
  • Fresh vegetables and
  • Whole grains

Bad Carbs (Simple)

Bad carbs are everywhere.

Any food high in added sugar (sugar is synonymous with simple-carbohydrate) is a bad carb.

Even low-fat or no-fat food options will make you fatter if they are high in calories derived from sugar.

Also avoid processed carbs like white rice, white flour and products made from them because during processing much of the fiber and complex carbohydrates are removed and the remaining material is high in simple carbs with very little fiber (fiber is a polysaccharide but the difference between fiber and other complex carbohydrates is that fiber cannot be digested by the human digestive system).

Here’s a list of bad carbs:

  • Any foods high in added sugar
  • Any foods that get most of their calories from sugar
  • Foods made with any kind of white flour (white wheat flour, white corn flour, white rice flour etc) so white bread and white pasta are not recommended carbs
  • Foods made with white rice
  • Highly processed wheat products (muesli bars, many breakfast cereals, cookies etc)

There’ll be more on choosing foods in later chapters.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) score of a food is an indicator of how much insulin your body secretes in response to eating the equivalent of 50 grams of carbohydrate of that particular food.

Pure glucose has a score of 100 and all other foods are scored relative to that.

It’s important to understand that the GI value is NOT based on eating 50 grams of the food, but whatever it takes to get 50 grams of carbohydrate from the food.

That means, if its 100% carbohydrate, the GI score indicates insulin levels after eating 50 grams. But if the food is only 5% carbohydrate, the GI score is an indicator of insulin levels after consuming 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) of the food.

Obviously some foods servings are going to be more than 50 grams and others are going to be much less than 1 kilogram so the GI score is criticized for its inability because impractical serving sizes for some foods but it can still be a used as a meaningful guide.

Glycemic Graph

Figure 13 – This graph shows how insulin spikes are eating low and high GI foods.
Typically foods with a higher GI create a larger blood-glucose spike

Glycemic Load

To combat the issue of impractical serving sizes to get the GI score of some foods, a more reliable scale was developed called the glycemic load (GL).

The GL is an indicator of the insulin response to the carbohydrate found in a typical serving of the food and therefore considered a more reliable tool for choosing foods.

Understanding GI and GL Values

The table below shows what values are considered high, medium and low for both GI and GL of foods.

When choosing foods based on these values, the lower the score the less of a blood-glucose spike you will experience after eating the food.

And it follows the insulin response will be less and resultantly less blood-glucose will be converted to and stored as body fat.


Glycemic Index

Glycemic Load


70 and over

20 and over





55 and over

10 and below

Here’s a graphical representation of the same information.



Figure 14 – this scale shows the GI ranges for low, medium and high. It’s best to avoid high GI foods & develop a preference for low GI foods. Even better, choose low GL foods



Figure 15 – GL is a more reliable value for prediction of insulin levels after eating foods because it is based on typical serving sizes. This image shows the ranges for high, medium and low. Try to avoid high and develop a preference for low GL foods

How I Use GI and GL Values

I prefer to choose foods on based on the GL value because it is a much better indicator of how your blood insulin levels will respond.

To be double sure I’ll check the GI value second because some foods with a low GL can have a very high GI.

How can that happen?

It occurs in instances where serving size is very low. For example, sugar has a GL of only 7 which is very low because the typical serving size is only 2 teaspoons. But if we check the GI value, it is very high at almost 100.

So I choose foods which are low to medium in both GL and GI. As much as possible, I try to choose only foods within the Low range for both.

Calories vs GI and GL

Now is probably a good time to mention calories.

Calories are a measure of the chemical energy stored in food but does not indicate how your body will react to the food.

Let’s say a serving of Food A contains 400 calories and the same size serving of Food B also contains 400 calories. Can we assume each of these foods will have the same effect on your waistline?

No, not entirely.

If the calories in Food A come mostly from simple sugars and fat while the calories in Food B come from complex carbohydrates and protein the effect in your body will be markedly different.

Food A will cause an exaggerated insulin spike while Food B will not (all food causes an insulin spike of varying degrees, the spike is normal, not inherently bad. It’s only considered detrimental when a large spike occurs from eating foods too high in simple sugars).

So not all calories are made equal.

A better indicator would have been the glycemic load and even the glycemic index. If we were the check the GL of Foods A and B we would have seen the GL of Food A is much higher and therefore will result in an unwanted insulin spike.

Calories should not be ignored however, when comparing foods which have good GL ratings you can be even more discerning by comparing calories.

You’ll find when foods have a low GL and are low in calories you can eat as much as you want without fear of gaining weight.