1. Bulk Up with Fiber

Nutritionally speaking, fiber is the indigestible part of food you eat—the stuff that passes through your digestive system relatively quickly and intact, such as the bran in grain, the pulp in fruit, and the skin of certain vegetables such as corn. By traveling so quickly, it also rushes other foods through your system, giving cancer-causing compounds less time to do their dirty work, and moving excess calories through your system before they turn into fat, which keeps your metabolic rate high. Fiber also promotes healthy digestion by stimulating the action of beneficial bacteria and dilutes potential carcinogens, reducing their ability to do harm. A diet high in fiber will fill you up so you’re less likely to eat unhealthy foods that slow down your metabolism, and it will help you maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels, making it a great tool for weight management.

2. Know Your Fibers

There are four major types of fiber, and each can benefit your body in a special way:

1. Cellulose. The most common type of fiber is found in most fruits and vegetables, as well as in whole grains and some types of nuts. Cellulose is an effective stool softener and helps dilute bile acids in the colon, which are believed to stimulate the growth of certain types of cancer.

2. Gums. These sticky fibers are derived from plants. They help lower cholesterol and may help prevent certain types of cancer, though researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how they work. Gums are found in oat bran, dried beans, and oatmeal and are commonly used to thicken processed foods.

3. Lignin. This fiber acts as a binder for cellulose and is found in certain fruits, nuts, peas, tomatoes, and whole grains. It doesn’t have the same action as cellulose on stools or bile acids, but laboratory studies have shown that it can help prevent the onset of cancer.

4. Pectin. This gelatinous compound supplements the action of cellulose. It helps limit the potential damage from bile acids and also aids digestion by preventing diarrhea. Rich sources of pectin include apples, bananas, beets, carrots, and a wide array of citrus fruit.

3. Know Why Soluble Fiber Is Great for Your Metabolism

Soluble fiber plays two important roles: (1) It binds to bile as it travels through your small intestine, and (2) it helps keep blood sugar levels manageable. Since bile acids assist fat digestion and allow cholesterol to stick around, the faster soluble fiber ushers fat through your system, the less fat and cholesterol you retain. And the steadier your blood sugar levels are, the more efficient your metabolic process remains.

Foods containing soluble fiber include:

• Oat/oat bran

• Dried beans and peas

• Nuts

• Barley

• Flaxseed

• Fruits such as oranges and apples

• Vegetables such as carrots

• Psyllium husk

4. Know Why Insoluble Fiber Is Great for Your Metabolism

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve as it travels through your digestive system. The benefits of insoluble fiber are twofold: (1) It creates a feeling of fullness that help you eat less, and (2) it speeds things along and lessens the amount of fats, cholesterol, sugars, and starches that are absorbed. One caveat: Too much insoluble fiber may have a deleterious effect if it prevents absorption of nutrients.

Foods containing insoluble fiber include:

• Corn bran

• Vegetables such as green beans and dark green leafy vegetables

• Seeds and nuts

• Fruit skins and root vegetable skins

• Whole-wheat products

5. Check Your Fiber Consumption

Despite efforts by government health agencies to boost fiber intake, the typical American still consumes an average of only 11 grams of fiber each day. According to the National Cancer Institute, an amount double that would be far more beneficial. Studies have shown that consuming between 20 and 30 grams of fiber a day can dramatically reduce your risk for many cancers. Look at the fiber content on the Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods. Good sources of fiber have at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving.

Consuming more than that, however, can cause painful and embarrassing bloating and flatulence. To avoid these problems, introduce fiber into your diet gradually and try to get as much as you can from the foods you eat, rather than relying on fiber supplements.

6. Always Choose High-Fiber Grains over Processed Grains

We all know by now that white bread, white rice, and plain crackers contain a lot of empty calories and a lot less fiber than whole-grain breads, cereals, crackers, and rice. One of the quickest and healthiest ways to boost your fiber intake—and thereby your metabolism—is to substitute higher-fiber foods, such as whole-grain breads, crackers, or chips, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta for lower-fiber foods, such as white bread, white rice, or plain crackers.

7. Eat More Raw Vegetables

Fresh vegetables provide plenty of fiber, but cooking vegetables can reduce their fiber content. Plus, the vegetables will retain more of their nutrients if you undercook them, and even more if you eat them raw. Eating raw vegetables—sans butter or oil—is very low in fat, and will fill you up, thus helping you cut back on foods that will be difficult to metabolize.

8. Savor These Fiber-Filled Vegetables

Consume a variety of vegetables to obtain different sources of fiber. Mature vegetables (those harvested at later growth stages) tend to contain more lignin; those harvested at an earlier growth stage have higher contents of pectin and hemicellulose. Eat as much as you want of these vegetables without feeling guilty: asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chicory, chili peppers, cucumber, dandelion, endive, garden cress, garlic, green beans, lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach, and turnips.

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