We can all relate to being told to eat more fiber. Just like being told to eat a cleaner, healthier diet and to exercise daily to maintain optimal health, fiber is another suggestion that is at the top of the list. But many of us have no idea why fiber is so important to our health. This might explain why only 5% of Americans meet the recommended fiber target, according to studies. After all, if we don’t know why fiber is so good for us, we probably don’t know where to source it or the incredible benefits we could be receiving from increasing our daily intake. Today, that’s going to change as we break down the importance of dietary fiber and the best ways to get more of it into your diet so we can all start to harness the disease-fighting, health-boosting advantages.
What is Fiber?
Dietary fiber, also referred to as roughage or bulk, can be described as the parts of plant foods that your body can’t absorb or digest. Unlike other components of food, such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats – all of which your body can break down and absorb – fiber doesn’t get digested. Instead, it passes through your stomach and small intestine without being absorbed into the bloodstream, eventually arriving in your large intestine relatively unchanged, to then pass through the colon and eventually out of the body.
Put all of this into the simplest terms and dietary fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that’s found in foods.
There are two categories of fiber, which is based on its water solubility. For example, soluble fiber dissolved in water and is metabolized by the healthy bacteria in your gut. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water.
Easy enough, right?
Furthermore, soluble fiber is found in things such as apples, beans, citrus fruits, oats, peas, carrots and barley, and are known to help reduce blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Insoluble fiber helps move material through your digestive system to aid proper bowel movement. It’s commonly found in things, such as wheat bran, nuts, beans, whole wheat flour, green beans, cauliflower and potatoes.
Now, the amount of fiber you get from each dietary source varies, so it’s important to eat a variety of high-fiber foods to receive the most benefits.
The Importance of Fiber for Health
One of the key functions of fiber is that it feeds the “good” bacteria in your gut. It’s said that 500 – 1000 different types of bacteria live in the intestine, which make up your gut flora and ultimately, your gut health. You want to have optimal gut flora, as the friendly bacteria produces nutrients for the body that help with various aspects of your health – from your heart and brain health, to your mood, mental health and beyond.
And how do you get “good” gut flora? The answer is simple: fiber.
Put simply, dietary fiber feeds and optimizes the function of the healthy bacteria in your gut. Some of the incredible health advantages that are associated with a high-fiber diet are:
- Regular and “healthy” bowel movements: Fiber helps your bowel movements by increasing the size and weight, and softening the stool for easier passing and to prevent constipation or loose, watery stools.
- Promotes bowel health: With fiber helping your bowel movements, this helps to maintain your overall bowel health. It can reduce your risk of developing hemorrhoids and even colorectal cancer.
- Reduces cholesterol levels: Soluble fiber, in particular, is known to help lower blood cholesterol levels by reducing “bad” cholesterol.
- Decreases inflammation: Eating a diet high in fiber can help reduce inflammation and with chronic inflammation being involved in the process of many health conditions and diseases, this can also help prevent and/or manage cancer, heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, asthma and many other health concerns.
- Reduces blood pressure: Various studies have found that eating a high-fiber diet can help combat high blood pressure.
- Helps control blood sugar levels: Soluble fiber, specifically, can slow down the absorption of sugar to aid and even improve blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, has been shown to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Promotes healthy weight: Foods high in fiber tend to be more filling than foods that don’t have much fiber. This allows you to feel fuller for longer, while also preventing overeating, snacking, and other unhealthy eating habits that can disrupt your weight.
Ways to Get More Fiber in Your Diet
With all of these benefits mentioned combined with the various studies suggesting that dietary fiber can reduce risk of cancer and death from cardiovascular disease, there’s no denying that it’s time to start eating more. But first, you need to know how much dietary fiber you should be getting each day.
Studies have found that only 5% of Americans get the proper amount of fiber into their diet each day. So, the daily recommendations are:
- For men 50 or younger: 38 grams of fiber
- For men 51 or older: 30 grams of fiber
- For women 50 or younger: 25 grams of fiber
- For women 51 or over: 21 grams of fiber
Now to start increasing your intake, some good food choices include:
- Fruits, such as apples, avocado, bananas, berries, cherries, guava, kiwi, mandarins, mangos, oranges, pears, and pomegranate
- Vegetables, such as asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, collard greens,
- Beans, peas and legumes, such as navy beans, split peas, pinto beans, kidney beans, soybeans, lentils,
- Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, pecans, peanuts, walnuts and chia seeds
- Grains, such as barley, whole grain pasta, quinoa, and oats
You can also increase your fiber intake with a supplement. Keep in mind that these fiber supplements don’t provide the other beneficial vitamins, minerals and nutrients that come from food sources. So, it’s recommended to get as much of your daily fiber from food.
Tips For Adding More Fiber Into Your Diet
Sometimes, you need a little bit more than just a simple food list of high-fiber foods to increase your fiber intake. Fortunately, there are some really easy hacks you can use to get all of the fiber you need in the most delicious ways possible.
Here are some popular tips for consuming more fiber:
- Add fiber into your cereals, granola bars, yogurt and ice cream, whether from food sources or as a supplement
- Eat a high-fiber breakfast cereal that offers 5 or more grams of fiber
- Opt for cereals that have bran, fiber or whole grain in the name
- Add unprocessed wheat bran to your cereal
- Switch to whole grains – whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, whole grain flour, brown rice, wild rice, barely – you name it
- Use whole grain products that have ‘whole grain’ listed as the first ingredient
- Opt for whole grain products that have at least 2 grams of fiber per serving
- Add crushes bran cereal, uncooked oatmeal or unprocessed wheat bran to your muffins, cookies, cakes and other baked goods
- Start baking and cooking your own food
- Aim to eat more legumes as they’re super high in fiber
- Add beans to your soups and salads
- Make nachos with beans and top with fresh veggies
- Add fruits into yogurt as a snack
- Eat fruit as a dessert
- Mix together a fiber smoothie
- Opt for snacks that are healthy and high in fiber, such as fresh fruits and veggies, low-fat popcorn, whole-grain crackers, a handful of nuts or seeds, etc.
- Drink more water, as fiber works best with water
- Clear your plate of veggies first before moving onto other food groups
- Keep a jar of oat bran or wheat germ nearby
- Start enjoying the skins of fruits
- Stop peeling your potatoes
- Try more fruit salads
- Enjoy oatmeal in the more
- Add more beans onto your plate
- Have an apple – or two – a day
- Make your own trail mix of high-fiber nuts and seeds
- Try new exotic grains
- Dip veggies in hummus as a snack
- Pop some low-fat popcorn
And there you have it! Getting more fiber into your diet is as simple as making a few adjustments in the way you snack, cook your meals, plate your foods, and start chowing down. It doesn’t just taste good either. Adding more fiber into your diet will help in various aspects of your health – from preventing and easing constipation to reducing your risk of serious health conditions and diseases. However, you can have too much of a good thing and eating too much fiber too quickly can result in increased gas, bloating and cramping. So, start with a few of these little changes and gradually increase your intake as you go. And keep in mind that it can take a couple of weeks for your digestive system to adjust to dietary changes. Keep going.