The latest nutrition talk is often all about increasing protein and fat, but fiber doesn’t usually get the attention it deserves.
Fiber is a low-key superhero when it comes to your health. Found in foods like beans, veggies, fruits, and nuts, fiber is super important for your digestive system. But, it’s also linked to a ton of preventative health benefits beyond just making you poop.
Unfortunately, most peeps don’t eat enough fiber. Here’s why fiber is a super important part of your diet and how to get more of it.
Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate found in plant-based foods that your body can’t digest. It’s usually split into two groups: soluble and insoluble fibers. But keep in mind that each type of fiber is unique, even though some fibers share similar properties. Let’s break it down.
Soluble fibers are dissolvable in water and there are three different soluble fiber categories:
1. Soluble, viscous/gel-forming, readily fermented fibers
These soluble fibers thicken up when exposed to water and are easily fermented by gut bacteria. They are beneficial for blood sugar control and may help lower cholesterol levels. However, they’re not helpful for constipation because they don’t have a laxative effect.
Examples include β-glucans from oats and guar gum.
2. Soluble, viscous/gel-forming, nonfermented fibers
These soluble fibers thicken in the presence of water but resist fermentation. They have the same benefits as soluble, viscous, and fermentable fibers. But, since they’re resistant to fermentation in the large intestine, these fibers can help constipation and diarrhea. 💩
An example is psyllium.
3. Soluble, nonviscous, readily fermented fibers
These types of fibers are soluble in water, but don’t thicken. They’re also easily fermented by gut bacteria. They may help boost beneficial bacteria in the gut while limiting the growth of potentially harmful gut bacteria.
Examples include inulin, oligosaccharides, and resistant starches.
Unlike soluble fibers, insoluble fibers don’t dissolve in water. Plus, they don’t thicken in the presence of water and they’re poorly fermented by gut bacteria.
Insoluble fibers can have a laxative effect and help increase the water content of stool to make you go. However, some types of this kind of fiber, like finely ground wheat bran, can dry out your poo and stop things up.
Another example of insoluble fiber is cellulose, a type of carb found in plants.
A high fiber diet offers all sorts of health benefits. Plus, certain types of fiber can help you get a much needed No. 2. Here are some of the most well-known benefits of fiber.
FYI: There’s A BUNCH of different fibers found in food, plus tons of fiber supplements. These benefits are related to fiber in general.
A large 2017 umbrella review found that folks with the highest fiber intake had a lower risk of developing heart disease and dying from heart-related conditions. This was compared to those who ate the least amount of fiber.
Digestion and gut health
Loading up on fibrous foods helps feed the good bacteria in your gut and helps keep your digestive system healthy.
Fermentable soluble fibers can be broken down by gut bacteria, releasing beneficial compounds and contributing to a healthy gut bacteria balance while insoluble fibers help keep bowel movements regular.
Soluble, viscous, nonfermentable fibers and insoluble fibers are helpful for relieving constipation because of their laxative effect.
Research shows that following a high fiber diet can also help protect you from developing conditions that impact the digestive system. This includes colon cancer, diverticulitis, and Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Healthy body weight
Adding high fiber foods to your meals and snacks may help increase feelings of fullness. Just make sure to balance fiber with protein and healthy fats. This will help fuel your body and keep you satisfied between meals.
Many studies have linked high fiber diets with healthy body weight.
More fiber-related health benefits
Adding more high fiber foods to your diet may help improve blood sugar regulation, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and blood pressure.
In general, plant foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are good sources of fiber.
Here are a few foods that are particularly packed with fiber:
- navy beans (9.6 grams per 1/2 cup)
- lentils (7.8 grams per 1/2 cup)
- oats (4.1 grams per 1/2 cup)
- butternut squash (6.6 grams per cup)
- artichoke hearts (9.6 grams per cup)
- broccoli (4.2 grams per cup)
- prunes (6.2 grams per 1/2 cup)
- pears (4.6 grams per small pear)
- raspberries (8 grams per cup)
- avocado (5 grams per half avocado)
- almonds (7 grams per 2 ounces)
- ground flaxseed (8 grams per 30 gram serving)
- chia seeds (8 grams per 2 tablespoon serving)
It’s hard to eat too much fiber when it comes from whole foods like fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Even though high fiber foods can cause digestive upset, especially when you’re not used to eating a high fiber diet, dangerous side effects related to eating too much fiber from foods is rare. Although it’s possible.
Be careful with fiber supplements
It’s easy to overdo it if you’re taking fiber supplements.
Though fiber supplements can be used safely and are helpful in certain situations, you shouldn’t be chugging down Metamucil multiple times a day. That is, unless your doc has instructed you to for a medical condition.
You’ve probably heard of a certain super popular diet that pushes supplements that contain an excessive amount of fiber. Cough, cough… starts with F and ends with Factor. Many health professionals recommend avoiding this diet and other diets that recommend filling up on insane amounts of supplemented fiber.
For this reason, it’s best to get your fiber from foods, not supplements. Fiber supplements should be saved for medical reasons and recommended by your doc.
Currently, it’s recommended that adult women under the age of 50 consume 25 grams of fiber per day. Men under 50 should aim for 38 grams.
However, this doesn’t mean that eating a diet that contains more fiber than the amounts listed above isn’t recommended. These are just general recommendations for adequate fiber intake.
Unfortunately, the average American only consumes about 15 grams of fiber per day, which is way below the recommended intake.
Not getting enough fiber could put your health at risk. Fortunately, there are many delicious ways to boost your fiber intake.
Here are some ways to pack more fiber into your diet:
- Add chickpeas to your salad.
- Throw some beans into your soups and stews.
- Top yogurt and oatmeal with ground flaxseed or chia seeds.
- Add berries to your breakfast.
- Toss veggies into your omelet.
- Snack on sliced avocados with a sprinkle of sea salt.
- Choose whole grains like quinoa, farro, and bulgur.
- Swap fruit juice for whole fruit.
- Munch on nuts and seeds.
- Add a salad or a side of veggies to your dinner.
- Dip veggies or chips in hummus or guacamole.
- Keep the skin on fruits and veggies when possible.
The best way to increase fiber in your diet is to experiment with a bunch of high fiber foods to find out which you like best.
Before you know it, you’ll have a list of go-to high fiber faves. Just make sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water when you’re increasing fiber in your diet.