The Western diet is rich in highly processed, simple carbohydrates.
White bread, white rice and white pasta are the norm, not the exception, in homes and institutional kitchens alike. The trouble is that these carbohydrates act as cheap fuel. They fill us up, they provide us with energy, but they are highly lacking in the fiber and other nutrients that are essential to a healthy digestive system.
Even when it comes to “high fiber” processed foods, the fiber they contain comes from relatively uniform sources. Many “whole grains” in processed foods are in fact themselves highly processed, leading them to behave more like the refined carbohydrates they were supposed to replace.
In a recent article for the New York Times, food writer Michael Pollan talked to microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg about the Western diet’s reductive tendencies and its influence on the beneficial microbes that inhabit our digestive tracts:
“Fiber is not a single nutrient,” Sonnenburg said, which is why fiber supplements are no magic bullet. “There are hundreds of different polysaccharides” — complex carbohydrates, including fiber — “in plants, and different microbes like to chomp on different ones.”
But how do we introduce a wider variety of fiber sources into our diets? Most dauntingly, how do we get our children to explore these foods in a world that is pushing them toward processed, simple and often addictive alternatives?
Whole grains are central in this effort. And as the quote above suggests, it’s important to explore a diversity of whole grains, along with other plant-based sources of fiber such as fruits, vegetables and legumes too.
Here are a few ideas to help you on your way.
List and captions courtesy of the Mother Nature Network