All nutrients play an important role in helping our bodies function properly, but there's one that is often overlooked... Fiber. That's probably because of all those funny ads that associate it with preventing and/or relieving constipation. All jokes aside, there is actually much more to dietary fiber than you might not know...
Like, did you know that fiber, in some cases, can actually help you burn body fat, keep your bad cholesterol low, and even lower your risk of diabetes? It's true, and the best thing about it is that fiber rich foods are actually quite tasty (bran isn't the only option)!
Fiber is definitely something you want to make sure you're eating enough of. You can start by learning more about why a high fiber diet is important, how much you need to eat in order to reap the benefits, and what fiber rich foods to add to your grocery list!
What Is Fiber?
Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate that the body can't digest or absorb. Typically foods that contain fats, proteins, and/or carbs pass through your body and are broken down and absorbed. Fiber, on the other hand, passes somewhat intact through your stomach, small intestine, colon and then out of your body.
There are two types of fiber that work differently in the body:
- Soluble fiber: This type of fiber is commonly found in plants and dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. Soluble fiber helps sugars and fats enter your bloodstream at a slower rate in order to give you a steady supply of energy, it also helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.
- Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber does not dissolve in water and is found in mostly whole grains and some vegetables. This type of fiber is the one that is associated with digestive health because it helps food pass through your digestive system and increase stool bulk which benefits those who struggle with constipation.
Both of these types of fiber are beneficial to one's health, but for those whose main goal is weight loss then you want to make sure you're getting enough of soluble fiber in your diet.
Why is it so good?
Fiber is a very low glycemic food, meaning it doesn’t make your blood sugar spike. This is where most of it’s AMAZING qualities come from. The fact that it doesn't make your blood sugar spike makes it so that your body doesn't need to produce as much insulin - A fat making hormone. This means your body won't store as much fat and even helps curbs insulin spikes (great for diabetics)!
Here are even more health benefits of a high-fiber diet...
- Helps maintain digestive health and regulate it: As we discussed earlier, insoluble fiber helps food pass through your digestive system. It does that by increasing the weight and size of your stool and softening it. Doing this decreases your chances of constipation. Preventing and relieving constipation is also important for your bowel health. A fiber rich diet has been linked to lowering the risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (known as diverticular disease).
- Lowers cholesterol levels: High levels of bad cholesterol levels is linked to heart disease, but soluble fiber can help reduce your chances of that happening and can improve heart health. Certain foods (oats, beans, flaxseed) that are rich in soluble fiber help lower bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) levels which in turn can help lower the total blood cholesterol levels.
- Helps control blood sugar levels: People with diabetes benefit from eating soluble fiber because it helps slow down the absorption of sugar which helps control and improve blood sugar levels.
- Beneficial for your gut: Gut health plays important roles in various aspects of our health. The bacteria in our gut can affect our weight, inflammation, blood sugar control, immunity, and brain function. If you eat junk you'll have a lot of bad bacteria which causes negative health effects. One way to get more good bacteria in your gut is by eating soluble fiber. Fiber provides the body with prebiotics which are substances that feed the good bacteria in the gut.
- Can help with weight loss: High-fiber foods digest slower then low-fiber foods like simple carbs, and although they tend to have fewer calories, they're actually extremely filling. This means you're likely to be satisfied longer and eat/snack less, plus fiber rich foods are whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. So these healthy whole foods that are packed with fiber and other nutrients, keep you full longer which can promote weight loss.
How many grams of fiber do you need to eat per day?
The recommended daily fiber intake according to the USDA, is 22-28 grams for women and 28-33 grams of fiber for men.  For those who are actively working to gain muscle can eat up to 40 grams of fiber per day because your body will need it to process any whey protein in your system. Even if you do happen to eat a little more fiber than you're supposed to, the worst that can happen is a bit of gas and bloating which can quickly subside. But you might be surprised to hear that the average American doesn't actually get the recommended daily amount of fiber.
High-Fiber Foods To Add To Your Diet
As always, you should make sure that you get most, if not all, of your nutrients from whole foods. The good news is that there are plenty of delicious, healthy foods that have a high fiber content. But before I give you a list of foods to add to your grocery list, I want to clear up one thing: You don't need any supplements, bars, or drinks that are high in fiber. Most products that are promoted as being "fiber-fortified" often contain added sugars and other artificial ingredients. So stick to natural food sources as much as possible.
What to eat
Whole fruit: Most fruits pack a ton of fiber because it's found in the skins, seeds, and membranes of the fruit. Fruit juices tend to have very little fiber, instead eat or add some of these high-fiber fresh fruits into your smoothies..
- Apples - One has roughly 4-5 grams
- Avocado - 10 grams per cup
- Blackberries - 8 grams per cup
- Guavas - One has 3 grams
- Pears - One medium sized pear has 5.5 grams
- Raspberries - 8 grams per cup
- Strawberries - 3 grams per cup
Vegetables: These high-fiber veggies will super-size your meals without the enormous amount of calories. Incorporate these in your meals to make them even more satisfying and filling...
- Artichokes - One has 10.3 grams
- Broccoli - 2.4 grams per cup
- Brussels sprouts - 4 grams per cup
- Carrots - 3.6 grams per cup
- Cauliflower - One medium sized cauliflower head has 12 grams
- Green beans - 4 grams per cup
- Sweet potatoes - Medium sized, baked with skin on has 5 grams
Whole Grains and Legumes: Opt for whole grain foods instead of refined ones to boost your fiber intake. Legumes are also a must-have on your grocery list, not only are they jam packed with fiber, they also have tons of protein! Here are a few of the best high-fiber whole grains and legumes to start incorporating into your recipes..
- Brown rice - 3.5 grams per cup
- Oats - 16.5 grams per cup
- Quinoa - 5.2 grams per cup
- Whole wheat bread - 3 grams per slice
- Black beans - 15 grams per cup
- Chickpeas - 12.5 grams per cup
- Lentils - 15.6 grams per cup
- Kidney beans - 11.3 grams per cup
- Split peas - 16.3 grams per cup
Not only are all these foods packed with fiber, they are also a good source of vitamins, phytonutrients, healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), amino acids.. All the nutrients your body needs to function properly. The best way to make sure you're getting enough fiber in your diet is by incorporating some of these foods into every meal. You can make breakfast smoothies, or make side dishes like hummus or artichoke dip. Another good source of fiber can be found in nuts and seeds like almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds. So you can even incorporate them into your snacks!
Remember, eat roughly 30 grams of fiber a day to reap the wonderful benefits it offers. Add some exercise in the mix and you're on the right track to your fitness goals 💪