When people think of getting enough “fiber” they often imagine foods like “bran” and prunes – foods not usually eaten when one is following a LCHF style of eating. But what is fiber and how do we get enough when we don’t generally eat grains or legumes?
Fiber – soluble and insoluble
There are two kinds of fiber, insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble fiber is what most people think about when they think of “roughage” needed to form stool and prevent constipation. It helps form the bulk of the stool. Insoluble fiber is naturally present in the outside of grains, such as whole grain wheat, un-milled brown rice and the outside of oats. It is also found in fruit, legumes (or pulses) such as dried beans, lentils, or peas, some vegetables and in nuts and seeds.
Soluble fiber forms a ‘gel’ in the intestine and binds with fatty acids. It slows stomach emptying and helps to make people feel fuller for longer, as well as slow the rate that blood sugar rises, after eating. Soluble fiber absorbs water in the gut, and helps to form a pliable stool. Soluble fiber is found on the inside of certain grains, such as oats, chia seeds or psyillium, as well as the inside of certain kinds of fruit such as apple and pear.
Dietary Recommendations for dietary fiber intake varies with age and gender. Men under the age of 50 years are recommended to take in 38 gm / day of dietary fiber, and men over 50 years to take in 30 gm / day. Women under 50 years old are recommended to take in 25 gm of fiber per day and over 50 years, 21 gm per day.
[Reference: Government of Canada, nutrients in food, https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/nutrients/fibre.html]
Both kinds of fiber are needed and most Canadians eating a conventional diet are getting half of what is recommended.
For those eating a Low Carb High Fat Diet, even though grains and legumes are generally not eaten, getting enough fiber is not that difficult.
Avocado – Surprisingly, avocado which is an excellent source of vegetable fat, is also high in fiber, having more than 10 gm fiber per cup (250 ml). Avocado grown in Florida which are the bright green, smooth-skinned variety have more insoluble fiber than California avocado, which are the smaller, darker green, dimpled variety.
Berries – Berries such as blackberries and raspberries are fruit that I encourage people to use sprinkled on salads, as they are an excellent source of antioxidants, but also have 8 gm fiber per cup (250 ml).
Coconut – Fresh coconut meat has 6 gm of net carbs per 100 grams of coconut, but also packs a whopping 9 gms of fiber and is a very rich source of fat (33 gms per 100 gm coconut). It can be purchased peeled, grated and sold frozen in many ethnic stores or in the ethnic section of regular grocery stores.
Artichoke – Artichoke is a low-carbohydrate vegetable that is delicious boiled and it’s leaves dipped in seasoned butter. Surprisingly, one medium artichoke has over 10 gm of fiber.
Okra – Okra, or ‘lady fingers’ is a staple vegetable in the South Asian diet and is commonly eaten in the Southern US. Just one cup of okra contains more than 8 gm of fiber.
Brussel Sprouts – These low-carb cruciferous vegetables are not just for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Split and grilled on the BBQ with garlic, they are a sweet, nutty addition to any meal, packing almost 8 gm of fiber per cup.
Turnip – Turnip, the small white vegetable with a hint of purple is not to be confused with the pale beige, larger rutabaga. Turnip contains almost 10 gm of fiber per cup. It is delicious pickled with a single beet, and eaten with Middle Eastern foods.
Even though passing stool is as natural a part of the process as eating is, most feel awkward discussing it. Many don’t know what “normal” is in that regard, or even if there is such a thing. Is once every few days okay, is it detrimental if it is only once a week? Should it be every day and if so, is more than once a day too much? Does texture matter or is it only frequency?
Frequency and Texture
Many physicians consider normal bowel movement (BM) frequency from 3/day to every 3 days whereas I tend to lean towards daily to every two days as preferable. Even if BM frequency is in this range, hard, painful to pass stools are problematic and would be categorized as constipation.
Since the mid-1990s there is a standardized method to classify the texture of stools, called the Bristol Stool Chart based on research which indicated that stool is a useful surrogate measure of how long feces (stool) takes to go through the large intestine (called “colon transit time”).
While Type 3-7 are considered valid for diagnosing diarrhea, Type 1 and Type 2 stool can have normal “transit time”, but be compact and hard due to lack of fluid / water.
The fact is, many, if not most people either have a lack of fiber or a lack of sufficient fluid or both and are constipated to a greater or lesser degree. They eat every day, but they don’t pass stool often and when they do, it is hard and compact. Their bodily waste sits in their colon for several days before finally being eliminated – and when it is, it is hard, dry and compact and often painful to pass.
Constipation is usually due to two factors;
(1) not taking in foods with enough fiber and
(2) not drinking enough water
Sometimes, despite eating the foods mentioned above, people find it isn’t sufficient. This is where what I have dubbed “birdseed” comes in. Of course, I don’t mean actual birdseed!
What I call “birdseed” is a mixture of 1 tbsp. freshly ground whole flax seed (3 gm fiber per tbsp.) to which 1 tbsp. of chia seed is added (5.5 gm fiber per tbsp.).
The chia seeds are ground a little bit with the previously ground flax seed, and then the two ground seeds are placed in a small bowl.
An added portion of psyllium husk (1 tbsp.) is optional.
To drink this mixture, diluted coconut milk can be added, the mixture briefly stirred and then drunk quickly, followed by a good amount of water (I recommend at least 2 cups (500 ml).
For even more fiber and a delicious taste, 2 tbsp. of tahini (ground sesame paste) can be added and the mixture eaten with a spoon.
Tahini has 0 net carbs, and almost 4 gm of fiber for 2 tbsp.
Note: people often ask if they can make "chia pudding" to which they add ground flax seed, but the idea here is to have the flax and chia seeds do their magic in the intestines, not in a container, beforehand.
Water – how much is sufficient?
Dehydration is another factor that contributes to constipation. Often people simply don’t drink enough water to form a bulky, pliable stool.
The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for water for men over 18 years is 3.7 liters per day and for women over 18 years, 2.7 liters per day and this is from all water, including that contained in beverages.
Fiber and water together
Drinking one liter of water or club soda / seltzer with each batch of “birdseed” is a good idea, because the last thing we want is to have all this insoluble and soluble fiber this in our intestines, with insufficient water. In the worse case scenario, this can result in an intestinal blockage, so be sure to drink sufficient water when taking “birdseed”.
I usually recommend that people start off with having 1 tbsp of flax seed and 1 tbsp of chia seed once a day – increasing after a few days if needed to twice (or if needed, three times) a day – making sure to drink a liter of water immediately afterwards.
What about carbs in “birdseed”?
While flax seed, chia seed and psyllium are grains, they have very few net carbs.
1 tsp of whole flax seed (3.4 gm) is so high in fiber that it has no net carbs.
1 tsp of whole chia seed has only .3 gm of net carbs.
Even if you add 1 tsp of psyllium husk, that adds only 1 gram of carbs.
“Birdseed” can be drunk as described above, eaten with sesame paste (also very high in fiber and a good source of healthy fat), or sprinkled on salads or omelettes.
…and remember to drink a liter or so of water each time you take “birdseed”, so that passing stools daily, just like eating daily, will be the norm.
To your good health!
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Note: Everyone's results following a LCHF lifestyle will differ as there is no one-size-fits-all approach and everybody's nutritional needs and health status is different. If you want to adopt this kind of lifestyle, please discuss it with your doctor, first.
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