Perhaps you remember the 1984 Wendy’s commercial that asked, “Where’s The Beef?” If not, and you need a good laugh, then be sure to view this thirty-four second, made for TV, classic.
For those that don’t remember 1984, that was before we carried smartphones around and TV screens still curved at the edges. Indeed, many things in life have improved over the years. Unfortunately, nutrition in America hasn’t improved. The problem was never “Where’s the Beef”, the problem was and continues to be “Where’s the fiber.”
In case you are asking why fiber is so important, let’s recount the high points with a list of 12 reasons for why people live longer and healthier lives on a high fiber diet.
- Lower risk of heart disease and stroke
- Lower risk of diabetes
- Lower risk of cancer
- Lower risk of dementia and depression
- Lower Risk of hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Less autoimmune disease
- Less gallbladder disease
- Less kidney disease
- Fewer cataracts and less macular degeneration
- Less osteoarthritis
- Healthy weight loss
- Improved gut bacteria (many more advantages)
That is an impressive list for anyone planning to enjoy their retirement years. Personally, I’m more motivated by the thought of how much vacation time I would have if all my patients followed a plant-based whole food diet that’s high in natural fiber. Unfortunately, a problem stands in the way of my vacation dreams. Inadequate fiber intake remains persistently widespread. Less than 3% of Americans get adequate natural fiber.
The problem is simple enough. The good fiber is only contained in plant foods. More importantly, the best fiber is only available in whole plant foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.) When refined, fiber is often discarded or becomes less supportive of the gut’s microbiome. What this means is that fiber drinks, fiber nutrition bars, and other forms of refined fiber can’t be counted on to provide the positive effect obtained from the fiber in naturally occurring whole plant foods.
More importantly, having adequate fiber is the most important step for managing weight. With almost 80% of Americans overweight, this is a significant opportunity to solve America’s looming health crisis with one very simple change in national dietary policy.
No doubt many hearing this message for the first time will ask, “How can eating a high-fiber diet make such a big difference?” Well, it’s not just the fiber that does the magic. As it happens, foods that are high in naturally occurring fiber are also rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and water in a form that helps you feel satisfied without eating excess calories. By eating food that’s satisfying, it becomes possible to lose weight without feeling like you are deprived of food. Of course, the addictive nature of refined foods can present a temporary challenge that requires some creative adapting. Fortunately, once past the addictive stage, a plant-based whole food diet is a healthy and sustainable diet that’s satisfying and that can provide all of the eating enjoyment you could hope for. The best part of the change is that eating more can aid weight loss if it is from plants with natural fiber.
Unfortunately, the trend today is toward eating more protein. In a recent survey, over 60% of people believed that increasing protein consumption was the most important dietary change they needed. Many felt confident that foods like steak were a significant source of fiber when in reality, animal-based foods have no fiber at all. Making the current situation more disastrous is advertising that promotes foods like fiber filled diet shakes, ‘nutrition’ fiber bars, and fiber fruit gummies. All of these foods contain fiber that lacks the full health benefits of plant-based whole foods.
The problem, of course, is that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is deficient in fiber. Fewer than 20% eat the recommended amount of fruit, and fewer than 12% eat the recommended amount of vegetables. It gets worse, less than 4% eat the recommended amount of beans, and less than 1% eat the recommended amount of whole grains.
This is certainly not a new story. In Dan Buettner’s book, “The Blue Zones – 9 Lessons for Living Longer,” he points out that the number one lesson from communities that enjoy the best health and longevity is that 90%-95% of food comes from fruits, vegetables, grains, greens, and beans. In essence, for the best health eat more foods with natural fiber.
So, what’s the solution to America’s self-made dietary disaster? The best long-term solution is public education if you have an extra 50 years to wait around. In the short term, self-education is the best defense. Understanding that long-held habits are the reason we choose the foods we eat is the starting point. Filling in the details about why and how to change is why I write about healthy living lifestyles. With that information along with a book from my lending library, you can gain the knowledge and motivation needed. Understandably, old habits take time to change. No one changes a lifetime of habits in a day, and few make a major change in less than a year. It’s about progress, not perfection. Let’s work together for the best health possible!
Nancy Neighbors, MD
About Winners and Gainers
Unfortunately, the message that fiber is the missing part of the nutrition puzzle for most people hasn’t gained ground in the battle for minds and pocketbooks. Clearly, food advertisers are still winning. When you eat more fiber, you feel satisfied sooner. No need to guess why food advertisements seldom suggest eating more high fiber foods.
Did you know that in 1995, not one state in the nation had an obesity rate of over 20%? By 2016, no state had an obesity rate of less than 20% with some states now approaching a 40% obesity rate.
Looking For Exercise Ideas?
In the last month, a new gym called “Anytime Fitness” opened next door to my medical practice. Their gym members get 24/7 access seven days a week. For some this extra access could be a nice benefit. For myself, the convenience of being a few steps away will likely lure me into a membership. If you have considered a gym membership but need more information, take advantage of their July 4th open house (8:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m.) to roam around and get tips from their trainers.
If you qualify for a free Silver Sneakers membership through your health insurance plan, they can sign you up. In case you didn’t know, you can have as many free gym memberships as you want through the Silver Sneakers program. Since many gyms participate in the Silver Sneakers, this means you have gym access almost anywhere you go in the United States.
Wondering if a gym membership is right for you? The three short videos (about 3 minutes each) listed below may have what you need to get excited about using a gym.