Fiber in, fiber out, along with the carbs


Reporter Sheila Hagar is writing about prediabetes education and experiences from a personal perspective in a series of columns, of which today's is No. 9. This series will not contain every fact about diabetes, nor should it replace medical advice from your diabetes professional. Nonetheless, it rocks, according to her.

We're going to talk about poo today and there is no way around it. In a sort of magical setting, yes, but still. Consider yourself warned.

So some of you have mentioned to me that this fiber thing is a mystery. We know it's cool because every other food product screams the word on its label. And, of course, fiber is important because the government says so. But we don't really know why.

I'll do my best here, but you may also want to talk it over with your doctor or nurse.

For people following an eating plan to prevent or reverse diabetes, fiber appears to be an extraordinary secret weapon, according to my sources.

Fiber is actually a carbohydrate, says Amy Campbell, who writes a blog for the "Diabetes Self Management" publication. "But unlike sugars and starches, we can't digest it very well."

Basically, fiber has a natural superglue that not even stomach acid can dissolve, so it stays intact through the gut (did you know that is the technical name for ... um, your gut?). Once it reaches the large intestine, Amy says, our own juice can turn fiber into energy. Which, it has to be said, can sometimes be expressed through, er, "gassiness."

Yet some of it goes right through, becoming poo (I told you this was coming).

Here's how it's been explained to me -- let's say you have carton of Trader Joe's Latin-style black bean soup in the pantry, which you happen to love, especially with some salsa stirred in. The soup's carbohydrate count is 12 grams per cup and the fiber count is four grams. Take the 12 grams of carbs, subtract the four grams of fiber for a total of eight net carbs. That means you can safely consume two delicious cups of soup for 16 grams of carbs, adding in another two grams of carbs or so for the salsa. If you want to add a dollop of sour cream? Add another half a gram.

The whole yummy thing is less than 20 grams of carbs, but you just ingested eight grams of fiber.

I should tell you there is soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, which is our body's best friend. Amy says insoluble fiber -- or roughage -- is referred to as "nature's broom." It does what you can picture, moving things along your digestive system. You get this fiber from nuts, whole grains, popcorn, leafy veggies and the peel on apples and pears, among other foods.

Soluble fiber (say it fast five times) is found in oats, beans, some fruits (citrus, apple and pear) and vegetables (mushrooms, carrots, sweet potatoes) and psyllium. This fiber soaks up water and forms a gel. "Diabetes researchers believe that consuming large amounts of soluble fiber may help control blood glucose levels after meals by slowing the rate of carbohydrate absorption in the intestine. Soluble fiber has also been shown to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels by binding to cholesterol and helping to pass it out of the body," according to the Diabetes Self Management article.

They avoided that poo word, I noticed.

Really, does it get any better? We eat too much of the wrong foods, we get disease. We eat the food with fiber, we get swept clean, so to speak. There are additional fibers to learn about on Amy's blog at The author is a registered dietitian, diabetes educator and has written profusely about nutrition.

Most Americans don't get the recommended number of grams of fiber, which averages out to be about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men per day. You're adults and I'm not going to tell you what to do, but I do want to leave you with a few Hagar fiber tips.

My family buys raw nuts to roast at home. It's cheap(er) and delicious. Sometimes we bathe them in a little Worcestershire sauce, spread them on the cookie sheet and toss a little sea salt on top. We usually combine pumpkin seeds, sunflower kernels, slivered almonds and add in whatever is on sale that week. Other favorite additions are garlic, chili or onion powder.

I keep them in my desk, send them with school lunches, take them along on trips.

We like to steam cauliflower in curry water, then mash it with some butter and maybe cheese. One cup of this cooked vegetable has just over 5 grams of carbs and more than three grams of fiber, meaning a total of less than two grams of carbs per cup.

I also buy these amazing tortillas, made by either Don Panho or La Tortilla Factory. Net carbs for these babies is about six grams, once you subtract the fiber. That means I can layer in all kinds of deliciousness and roll it up into a meal. I use leftover meat and salad, artichoke or olive tapenade, pepper strips, beans, whatever. Best. Lunch. Ever.

I have also made tortilla chips from these beauties when I have to answer my inner nacho woman. I brush on a little olive oil (zero carbs) and pan roast (baking produced one soggier side) the tortillas I sliced up with the pizza cutter. Then it's under the broiler with shredded cheese (zero to two carbs), onions and some olives.

Just like that, I'm transported back to the old days.

That said, I don't want to ever return to the carbohydrate consumption habit of back then.

One more. I asked a friend to help me find a really good energy bar that I could feel good about feeding my kids. Margot-the-research-queen found a company called Gnu Foods. It's based in New York and it makes fiber bars. Incredible fiber bars. They are made with six whole grains and sweetened with fruit juice, "no artificial anything," vegan, etc. They have about 130 calories, 30 carbs, depending on the flavor, and 12 grams of fiber. Thus your breakfast might be as low as 18 carbs because these lovelies are filling.

Even better, they are delicious. We love the cinnamon raisin (like a cookie), the peanut butter and the banana walnut. And the espresso chip, the chocolate brownie the orange cranberry ... you get it. We order online, they arrive in a few days and then we take them everywhere. There's one in my purse right now, in case of a hunger emergency.

There you go. Now you know as much as I do about fiber and its by-product, poo. If you have more fiber tips, send them in and I'll post them online on the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin's Facebook page.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.


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