Fruits and Fiber

Gretchen Becker Health Guide
  • Most people agree that fiber is good for us, and for this reason some nutritionists tell us we should eat fruit, which contains fiber.


    True, it does contain fiber. But it also contains a lot of carbohydrate. One small apple, for example, contains about 3 grams of fiber and 16 grams of carbohydrate. A small pear has approximately 3 grams of fiber and 21 grams of carbohydrate.


    I don't generally eat apples and pears. One gram of carbohydrate makes my blood glucose (BG) level increase by about 5 points, so a small apple would increase it about 65 points, if I subtracted the fiber from the total carbs. Eating carbs along with other foods does mitigate the BG rise somewhat, but the rise is still not insignificant.

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    Engineer and author Derek Paice has graphed the BG increases when several people, both type 1 and type 2, ate a small apple both with and without some fat. You can see the graphs here.


    However, although apples are generally not on my menus, right now, when the trees in my field are producing so many apples and pears that the sheep can't eat them all, I've given in to temptation, and I've started eating one or two slices of apple or pear after a meal.


    I try not to eat more than this, though. One day when I was cutting up apple branches that had fallen from the trees, using a bow saw, I picked up an apple and took a bite. It was so delicious that I threw caution to the wind, along with the core, and ate the entire apple. When I went back into the house, despite the hard work of sawing up the branches and hauling them back to the barn, my BG levels were higher than I like to see them.


    I do eat berries, which have less carbohydrate and don't seem to make my BG levels go up much at all. A whole cup of raspberries, for example, has 14 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of fiber.


    And if you're trying to follow a low-carbohydrate diet, I think those of you who really miss fruit should try different kinds of fruits in different amounts and see what you can tolerate. Then limit yourself to those fruits and those amounts rather than giving fruit up entirely.


    In the winter, I find that some fruit-flavored gelatin dessert somewhat mitigates my craving for fruit.


    But in fact, we don't need to eat fruit at all to get our fiber. There are other sources.


    Vegetables have fiber. A cup of broccoli or cauliflower, for example, has 5 grams of carbohydrate and 3 grams of fiber. In my book, that's a much better deal than an apple, with the same amount of fiber but more than three times as much carbohydrate.


    Even better are the greens: 3 cups of raw spinach, for example, contains only 3 grams of carbohydrate and 2 grams of fiber. Whereas a small orange (and who ever actually eats small pieces of fruit?), often touted as so much healthier than orange juice (and it is) still contains 11 grams of carbohydrate and only 2 grams of fiber . With the spinach, you get the same amount of fiber with a lot less carbohydrate.


  • There are other ways you can add fiber to your diet. If you like, you can buy fiber supplements like psyllium powder. If you do, just make sure you get one that isn't sweetened with sugar. And stir the fiber supplements into water so they don't gel up in your intestine and cause blockages.


    Instead of psyllium, I prefer guar gum, which I buy at coops or health food stores. Guar gum is 100% fiber, a galactomannan (a polysaccharide consisting of galactose and mannose subunits). It comes from the guar bean, which is grown primarily in India and Pakistan and has been used for years as a way to reduce cholesterol levels. It is also used in most ice creams to make them smoother.

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    Guar gum can be used as a thickener, and the result is similar to that of cornstarch, so I find it's an excellent cornstarch substitute in Chinese-type dishes. For dinner last night, for example, I sautéed some skinless chicken in a little olive oil, added snow peas and broccoli cut up into small pieces, and then added some water into which I had stirred a little guar gum (a little guar gum goes a long way) and cooked it until it thickened. I added a sprinkle of roasted sesame oil for flavor and had a delicious Asian-style dinner.


    Another food that is high in fiber is shirataki noodles, which consists of a glucomannan (glucose and mannose subunits). They are made from an Asian root vegetable. You can buy shirataki noodles at Japanese markets as they're traditionally used in sukiyaki, because they don't get soft when boiled. They're essentially calorie-free, as they're 100% fiber.


    The noodles are clear, but some clever person figured out that you could add tofu to the shirataki so they look more like other noodles. The tofu-shirataki noodles are available at Whole Foods and other such stores, or online. They contain a little more carbohydrate than the clear noodles, but not much.


    Although the noodles are a bit rubbery, when you haven't had any other type of noodle for a long time, they're delicious. I buy them by the case (they come in liquid and can't be frozen) and use them to add variety to my diet.


    Other relatively low carbohydrate sources of fiber include the brans, especially corn bran and wheat bran, flaxseed, and chia seed. You can stir the brans or ground seeds into other foods, use them to make muffins, cereal, or pancakes, or sprinkle them on top of salads. You'll have to grind the flaxseed before you use it or the hard seeds will mostly pass right through you. Chia seeds don't need grinding.

    I make pancakes with 2 Tb of wheat bran, 2 Tb of flax seed, freshly ground, and 1 egg. Stir together and fry in a little oil or butter. They puff up nicely and are tasty with some yogurt or kefir on top, or a little sugar-free syrup like DaVinci.


    Another source of fiber is nuts. I eat so many almonds I've started buying them wholesale. Nuts also contain fat, but it's mostly the good kind of fat, especially if you eat them raw or dry-roasted. With a low-carb diet, constipation can be a problem, but the fiber in the almonds seems to help avoid that side effect.


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    A half ounce of almonds (about 10 to 20 nuts, depending on their size) contains 3 grams of carbohydrate and 1.5 grams of fiber. They're also crunchy, and crunch is one thing that tends to be missing on a low-carb diet. Maybe that's why I eat a lot of almonds . . . probably too many, in fact.


    So if you really adore fruit, experiment and see how much and what types of fruits you can tolerate. But if you don't miss it that much, don't think you need to eat fruit to be healthy. Get your fiber from vegetables and other foods instead.

Published On: October 28, 2008