If you’ve ever explored improving your health through your diet I’m sure you’ve heard of the word fiber. Unfortunately, Americans aren’t great at meeting their daily fiber goals. According to statistics, only 5% of men and women in the US are meeting the recommended fiber intake goal, which is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men (2,3). But what is fiber and why is it important? Let’s take a look at how adding even a small amount of fiber to your daily routine can have an enormous positive impact on your health.
What is it?
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate found in plant-based foods. It differs from a nutrient that the body absorbs, but this doesn’t make it any less important. There are different kinds of fiber from soluble to insoluble. Soluble fiber is fermented in the GI tract whereas insoluble fiber passes through the GI tract without any fermentation. Soluble fibers are primarily found in fruits and vegetables while insoluble fibers are primarily found in nuts and whole-grain grain products (6). The characteristics of both types of fiber allow us to experience its’ health benefits. Overall, there’s a lot of complex nutritional science on how beneficial fiber is for us, but let’s break it down into the basics:
It aids in having a healthy digestive system.
Increasing fiber can aid in the prevention of intestinal diseases such as diverticular diseases and inflammatory bowel syndrome. The passing of fiber through the digestive system helps ease inflammation by clearing out food particles that may be contributing to inflammation (6). Research also suggests that fiber can lower the risk of colon cancer due to the fermentation of bacteria in the GI tract (3).
It helps you maintain a healthy weight.
Fiber has a direct role in satiety: the feeling of how full you are. Fiber creates bulk in the stomach which helps you feel fuller for longer. As you will feel fuller for longer you will naturally consume less calories throughout the day as you won’t be reaching for snacks or additional meals to satisfy your hunger. Additionally, foods higher with fiber are usually lower in calories, fat and sugar (3).
It helps promote heart health.
Fiber has been shown to lower your cholesterol, which overall improves your heart health. Some research has shown that an increased fiber consumption was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and studies in the US have shown that dietary fiber can have a “protective effect” on your heart against heart disease (3,6).
All of these seem like reason enough to me to want to include more fiber in my diet. Below are 10 common foods that pack a punch of fiber in just one serving.
10 foods to add to your diet
(grams of fiber per serving) (3,5)
- Chickpeas: 1 grams
- Lentils: 8 grams
- Black Beans: 5 grams
- Pears: 5 grams
- Apples: 4 grams
- Avocados: 5 grams
- Almonds: 5 grams
- Raspberries: 4 grams
- Sweet Potatoes: 8 grams
- Whole Oats 4 grams
Now, let’s not be unrealistic and assume that everyone’s going to meet their daily fiber recommendation all the time; that’s just not how us humans function. But each day we have lots of choices when it comes to food. Other good rules of thumb to go by for adding more fiber include adding more vegetables, eating more fruits with the peel still on (apples, pears, peaches) and prioritizing whole grain products. Examples of other foods that aren’t on the top 10 list, but are still good sources of fiber include bananas, figs, peas, spinach, strawberries, brussel sprouts, shredded wheat, brown rice and assorted nuts. By slowly incorporating these foods you will be well on your way to reaping the health benefits from a diet high in fiber.
More tips for more fiber:
- Look for whole-grain grain products such as crackers, English muffins, bagels and breads.
- Add veggies to pasta dishes and casseroles even if the recipe doesn’t call for it
- Use chickpeas, lentils and beans as the star of your meal instead of meat (you will get plenty of protein from these foods too).
- Start the day with a fruit smoothie: use frozen mixed berries, banana, almond milk and ½ cup of raw whole grain oats for a breakfast that will keep you full
- Always keep snacks like whole fruit and nuts nearby
Overall, we don’t need to necessarily track our fiber intake to know if we are most likely getting enough. By following an overall healthy diet full of whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean meats and healthy fats you are most likely pretty close to meeting your fiber goal.