Fiber gets a bad rap.
Typically, people only think about dietary fiber when they have constipation or gas. In fact, your body needs fiber every day. Yes, fiber keeps everything in our digestive system “on the move,” but it also promotes good GI health by fueling healthy bacteria and even prevents many types of cancers.
Most importantly to women with PCOS, fiber lowers blood glucose (and, as a result, insulin) and estrogen levels all while flushing toxins.
Beyond that, fiber helps you feel full faster, preventing overeating and subsequent weight gain. Experts frequently observe that people from other cultures who have abandoned their traditional diets for a more western, fiber poor, high fat and processed food diet, have become more susceptible to obesity and disease. We can avoid that fate by simply adding fiber to our diets in all of its nutritious and delicious glory.
What exactly is fiber?
Fiber is a nondigestable carbohydrate which can only be found in plants such as fruits, vegetables and grains. There are two types of fiber- soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber breaks down in the intestine, absorbing water and slowing digestion. You will find soluble fiber in oatmeal, nuts, beans, apples and some berries. Insoluble fiber doesn’t break down easily, so it passes through your system quickly and speeds along digestion. You will find insoluble fiber in seeds, grains, and the skins and hard, stringy parts of fruits and vegetables. Both types of fiber are important and work together for your best possible health.
Most women with PCOS have elevated insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas which helps your body to process excess glucose. When too much glucose enters your bloodstream, more insulin is produced to process the glucose, but it also triggers androgen production which creates a hormonal imbalance in the ovaries. When you ingest high-fiber foods, you stabilize your insulin levels by slowing digestion and the subsequent release of glucose into the bloodstream. This is why when you eat refined carbohydrates (like bread or other processed foods), you may experience a spike in your blood glucose and insulin levels since there is little fiber to moderate insulin production. As a woman with PCOS, you can probably relate to a struggle with weight loss. When your insulin levels are high, it causes your body to store fat (often in the belly area). Losing this weight is difficult because your system has put it in storage mode. To lose this weight, you must lower insulin levels by exercising and altering your diet- adding fiber is a good place to start.
Estrogen is vital to a woman’s health, and fiber can help keep your levels healthy and balanced.
You may remember from last month’s article about estrogen dominance that too much estrogen (either from internal or environmental sources) can lead to a wide range of health issues for both men and women. When estrogen levels are raised, you can expect increased PMS symptoms, fat gain around the belly and thighs, headaches, irritability, fibroids and more- even many cancers are linked to unbalanced estrogen. Adding fiber to your diet can help. In a healthy gut, fiber can bond to excess estrogen and help excrete it from the body. Breaking the excess estrogen cycle may alleviate many of your PCOS symptoms in a short time.
Fiber can help remove toxins from your system.
Women with PCOS should be particularly concerned with environmental toxins since so many of them affect our hormonal system. Fiber can assist the body to remove toxins and many pathogens in two ways.
First, it helps your body excrete bile containing toxins. You may know that the liver produces a substance called bile which is secreted into the small intestine. Its main purpose is to break fats into smaller pieces. As the bile does its job and makes its way to the end of the small intestine, it is reabsorbed into the blood and then moves on to the liver to be added to new bile and reused. The liver’s main function is to filter out drugs, toxins, fats and fat- soluble waste. It filters these elements remaining in the bile, and then adds them to any new waste and back to the recycled bile. This results in increasingly toxic bile. If you have sufficient fiber in your intestine, this is no problem! The fiber bonds with the bile, binds up all the toxins, cholesterol and fat, and prevents it from being reabsorbed. Instead of cycling back around, it is all excreted from your body. Fiber can therefore prevent the buildup of these toxins which would later flare up into inflammatory diseases like acne, eczema, psoriasis and gallbladder disease.
Secondly, some fiber passes through the small intestine without being digested. This fiber serves as nutrients for the friendly bacteria that thrive in your intestine. This friendly bacterial is essential to helping protect the lining of your intestine and preventing leaky gut syndrome.
How to add this all important fiber to your diet.
It’s simple, especially for those of us that follow the PCOS diet and use the PCOS Diva seasonal meal plans. We can find fiber in whole food sources like: beans (our best source of soluble fiber), broccoli, celery, apples, dark, leafy greens, quinoa, brown rice, lentils, peas, oatmeal, citrus fruit, cabbage, beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, bananas, onions, garlic, and artichokes.
If you have tried any of my seasonal menus, you know already know how to integrate this important nutrient, but I suggest starting by adding a handful or greens to your morning smoothie. If you’d rather, you can use a high quality fiber powder such as PCOS Diva Power Fiber.
At lunchtime, try a legume based soup and add some beans to your salad. For dinner, add garlic or onion to your veggies and start with a dark leafy green salad. Snacks are also a good opportunity to sneak in some fiber. Try a bean or artichoke dip with your veggies, have a handful of nuts, or grab a piece of whole fruit with nut butter. On the go? Try snacking on a fiber packed protein bar.
- Drink lots of water. Your body needs extra water to help the fiber move along and avoid constipation.
- Take it slowly. Add extra fiber into your diet slowly over several weeks. If you do it all at once, you will overload your system and end up feeling bloated, gassy and crampy.
- Distribute your fiber throughout the day. Fiber only acts upon the food with which you eat it and will pass through your system before your next meal.
I think you will find that the high fiber foods your body needs for effective digestion, blood sugar control and hormone health are the same ones that I recommend for lots of other good reasons too. These are exactly the low-glycemic, high phytonutrient, vitamin, mineral and antioxidant whole foods that we should be enjoying for our overall health and balance. So go enjoy a little fiber; your body will thank you!
Amy Medling, best-selling author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.