When people think about eating a healthy diet, fiber is a nutrient that may not be top of mind. Why is fiber good for you? This wonder nutrient is linked to a slew of health benefits. Yet, only 5% of Americans take in enough of it. The good news is that there are many delicious options to help people get in their ideal daily intake.
What Is Dietary Fiber?
Many have heard that fiber is a super-important part of a healthy diet, but they may not actually know what fiber does. Think of it as a broom for your intestines. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that sweeps through the intestines. As it travels through the long intestinal tube, it grabs particles like cholesterol and fat and brings the particles with it upon exit.
There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and adds bulk to stools. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps move food along the digestive tract promoting regularity and warding off constipation. Soluble fiber can also help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol.
A simple way to remember the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber is an apple — the inside of the apple is the soluble fiber, and the outside skin is the insoluble fiber. While you need and want to eat both soluble and insoluble fiber, don’t get too hung up on how much you need of one or the other — just remember eating both has health benefits, especially when people eat the recommended 21-38 grams of fiber a day or 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories that you consume.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women should aim to get at least 21-25 grams of fiber per day, while men should strive to get 30-38 grams of fiber per day.
There are many upsides to eating adequate amounts of fiber. Not only does getting enough help to relieve constipation and keep bowel movements regular, but it also helps control blood sugar to ward off type 2 diabetes and supports weight loss. Fiber also helps reduce inflammation and can help “feed” live probiotics while also supporting a diverse and healthy microbiota.
Is Too Much Fiber Bad?
While we should all aim to get in more fiber in our diet, too much of a good thing can be not-so-great. Going overboard can make a person feel bloated, constipated, or experience diarrhea. In extreme cases, too much fiber can result in a blockage in the intestine.
While long-term fiber intake will help prevent getting backed up and constipated, as you increase your fiber intake, be mindful that you also drink enough water — for most, 64-100 oz daily will usually be sufficient.
To get started, add one swap a week and see how you feel and increase from there. The body will adapt and get used to the increased fiber, and you’ll reap all the benefits of this super-nutrient.
Why So Many Of Us Aren’t Eating Enough Fiber
Most are falling short due to lifestyle and the Standard American Diet (also known as SAD). The Standard American Diet is made up of highly processed foods, added sugar, fat, and sodium. The National Center for Health Statistics reported almost 37% of American adults eat fast food daily. And since most fast food choices are severely lacking fiber, eating this way does not help the cause.
Plus, between only 1 in 10 Americans eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables a day and many people eating meals outside of the home, there are many obstacles in place that prevent us from meeting the mark.
While on the go, packaged convenience foods barely have any fiber, they are quick and easy and support a fast-paced lifestyle. The good news is that with a few changes, even with a busy and active lifestyle, you can achieve the recommended amount of fiber to promote good health.
Examples of Food with High Fiber
Fiber-rich foods are easy to find with a little know-how. If you are following a whole-foods diet rich in natural choices like produce, beans, and legumes, you are likely already on the right track.
Some fiber-rich foods that are delicious and convenient include:
Raspberries: 8 grams per 1 cup
Pear: 5.5 grams per 1 medium pear
Broccoli: 5 grams per 1 cup of chopped broccoli
Brussels sprouts: 4 grams per 1 cup
Quinoa: 5 grams per 1 cup
Whole Wheat Spaghetti: 6 grams per 1 cup cooked
Air Popped Popcorn: 3.5 grams per 3 cups
Brown Rice: 3.5 grams per 1 cup cooked
Lentils: 15.5 grams per 1 cup boiled
Black Beans: 15 grams per 1 cup boiled
Almonds: 3.5 grams per 23 almonds
Chia Seeds: 10 grams per 1 ounce
Tips on How to Increase Daily Fiber Intake
Eat More Vegetables: You may have heard it over and over again, and you are going to hear it one more time — vegetables are nutrient powerhouses and are jam-packed with fiber. At each meal, work up to filling half of the plate with these nutrient-rich foods.
Try Soups & Stews: Sample soups that have vegetables—try chicken noodle, lentil, and tomato.
Dress Up Your Salads: Start with a salad or make one of your main meals of the day a salad topped with lean protein or beans.
Snack Smart: Snack on raw vegetables and dip in hummus or salad dressing.
Add Veggies to Breakfast: Eating an omelet for breakfast? Always add your favorite vegetables. Enjoying a sandwich for lunch? Always add lettuce and tomato. Mix it up by adding cucumber for crunch.
Amp Up Your Fruit Intake: Eat at least one serving of fruit a day. One serving of fruit is equivalent to one piece of fruit or a cup of cut fresh fruit. You can add banana or berries to breakfast cereal, yogurt, and pancakes, or enjoy a piece of whole fruit as a healthy snack (try varieties that are in season for better taste). Try freezing just overripe fruit and add to smoothies, and choose whole fruit over fruit juice.
Go For Fiber-Rich Swaps: Swap refined grains for whole grains, choose brown rice or quinoa in place of white rice, give whole-grain pasta another try — it has come a long way! And snack on popcorn in place of pretzels.
Read The Nutrition Labels: Check nutrition labels on bread and cereals and aim for 5g fiber per serving.
Enjoy Nuts & Seeds: Adding in a handful of nuts and seeds to meals and snacks will also boost your fiber intake — and they are also portable when out and about. Many stores sell these items in single-serving packages to make it even easier for you to grab and go.
Fiber: The Underconsumed Nutrient We All Need
Eating fiber is one way for you to support so many aspects of your overall health. And accomplishing this goal is simple if you are eating a well-balanced diet rich in whole and minimally processed foods. Sticking with foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, seeds, and nuts can help you feed your gut in a simple and delicious way.