Fun fact: most Americans are only getting an average of 15 g of fiber per day. That’s way lower than the recommended 25 g per day. Which means that he majority of Americans are missing out on some serious health benefits.
For starters, let’s take a look at where you find fiber: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Guess what’s also in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains? Plenty of vitamins and nutrients. But aside from just being paired with some great stuff, let’s take a look at why fiber is so wonderful on it’s own:
The most immediately noticeable effect of eating more fiber is an increase in fullness. Fiber adds a large amount of bulk for very few calories which means that you feel fuller while eating less. This is crucial for individuals trying to lose weight as hunger can be one of the biggest obstacles to creating a calorie deficit. The more fiber you eat, the less likely you are to struggle with hunger.
Better digestive health
Nothing is quite as wonderful for your digestive system as fiber. (Warning: this next paragraph contains a significant amount of information about poop)
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber is a type that your body is unable to break down. This means it effectively acts as a broom helping to “sweep” out your digestive system. Benefits of consuming insoluble fiber include more regular bowel movements and less constipation. Aside from just comfort, regular BMs promote health by ridding the body of waste in a timely manner and promote growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Soluble fiber, on the other hand, absorbs water and helps form gels as it goes. In turn, this provides several benefits to the body. Thanks to it’s absorptive properties, soluble fiber can help prevent diarrhea and slow movement through the digestive tract. This same slowing of movement helps slow down the absorption of glucose (sugar) which can help control blood sugar spikes.
Reduced disease risk
This benefit is two-fold. First off, remember the soluble fiber I just mentioned? Turns out it’s also great for your cholesterol. As you’ve probably heard a hundred times before, high blood cholesterol can be a health risk and lead to heart problems. When you eat something high in animal fats, some of that fat gets broken down into cholesterol. Soluble fiber helps combat high cholesterol by blocking absorption in the digestive tract. This leads to lower cholesterol levels and therefore lower overall disease risk.
The second benefit comes from fiber’s role in weight loss. Obesity is a major factor in the development of chronic disease. By promoting fullness, fiber helps individuals to either maintain a healthy weight or reach their weight loss goals. In turn, this prevents or decreases obesity and promotes overall health.
Both types of fiber also promote digestive health by reducing risk of colon cancers.
Fuel for gut bacteria
Insoluble fiber also helps to feed your gut microbiome. This bacteria in your gut has recently been discovered to have a widespread effect in many areas of health. Among these health benefits are production of vitamins, improved digestion, and immune function. And while gut bacteria could be an entire article all on its own, the basic idea is that healthier, happier gut bacteria leads to better health overall.
How to up your fiber intake
Now that you know how awesome fiber is, let’s talk about how you can eat enough of it. As I already mentioned, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the best sources of both types of fiber. Below is a list of 10 tips to add more fiber to meals:
1. Look for 100% whole grain products. Even if something says it’s “whole wheat”, check the label. If the first ingredient in the list isn’t a 100% whole grain, you’re eating a refined product which is likely lower in fiber.
2. Sprinkle seeds on food whenever you can. Chia and flax seeds are both great toppers for oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt. Sunflower seeds and pepitas are great to sprinkle on salads. Note that the key word here is sprinkle as seeds can be higher in calories.
3. Start eating more beans. Beans can sometimes get a bad rap because they’re a starch, but they’re actually packed full of nutrients. They’re an excellent source of fiber, and contain protein, vitamins, and minerals as well. They’re delicious on their own, but also can be added to a salad or tossed in soups or chili.
4. Eat your vegetables whole, not just in smoothies or juices. Don’t get me wrong, smoothies are a great, easy choice for breakfast or a snack. However, by blending up all of the vegetables instead of consuming them in their whole form, you’re missing out on some of the benefits of fiber as well as losing some nutrients. Don’t rely on smoothies as your only source of vegetables.
5. Try hummus or guacamole instead of traditional dips. Your usual ranch dip likely doesn’t have any fiber in it at all. Try dipping fresh vegetables in hummus or guacamole for a double dose of fiber. Keep in mind that, as with seeds, these dips should be enjoyed in moderation due to their calorie content.
6. Leave the skin on your fruits and veggies. Whether you’re peeling apples or potatoes, extra fiber and nutrients are going out the door when you remove the skins. Keep the skins intact and reap more benefits from your meals.
7. Eat fruit as a dessert. There are many ways to enjoy fruit in dessert form while still keeping calories low. For example, eating a serving of raspberries or strawberries with a small amount of whipped cream, or baked apples sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
8. Check the label. Consider the nutrition label as one of the most important weapons in your health arsenal. Always check the fiber content before you buy. If a particular brand or product is low in fiber, check other brands to see if there’s a higher fiber option.
9. Try nuts as a snack. A small handful of nuts (check out our blog to learn how to include nuts without sabotaging fat loss) can bring both fiber and protein to the mix which makes for a filling and nutritious snack.
10. Avoid processed foods. It turns out that processed foods aren’t just high in salt, fat, and sugar. They’re also lacking in nutrients, one of those nutrients being fiber. Check labels and aim to buy minimally processed products.
Two important things to note before you embark on your fiber adventure:
- Start slowly. If you normally don’t eat very much fiber, trying to shoot for 25 g at once is going to be problematic. The digestive system needs time to adjust to increased fiber intake lest you be plagued with gas and bloating. Start slowly, increase by no more than 5 g at a time. If you notice you’re having digestive woes, dial the fiber back a bit. Once your symptoms are under control, continue to slowly increase.
- Drink up. Fiber requires more water to move through the digestive system. Not drinking enough water when increasing fiber may actually even worsen constipation. Make sure you’re meeting your fluid needs as you increase your fiber intake.
As you can see, fiber is clearly an important part of any diet. For recommendations specifically tailored to your needs, talk to your dietitian.