In the health and fitness world we hear all about the importance of protein, protein, and protein. Yet, there’s a huge part of our diet that is rarely talked about. That is fiber! Eating a diet high in fiber is best known to prevent or relieve constipation. However, fiber contains loads of amazing health benefits. It can help maintain a healthy weight, lower risks of diabetes and heart disease, and lower cholesterol levels. Fiber also helps to regulate the body’s use of sugars, which keeps hunger and blood sugar in check.
Fiber is in a lot of whole foods from fruits, vegetables, to grains! We have seen a rise in people not wanting to eat grains and breads due to popular diet culture. This may be for diet reasons or due to allergies. This is similar to the past diet culture fad of not eating fats. As we have seen there are healthy fats (i.e. natural oils, avocado, nuts) and worse fats (i.e. deep fried foods). What we can learn is to discern healthy and non-healthy foods, instead of banning all carbohydrates. Grains aren’t bad for you! In fact, they hold a lot of needed nutrients like soluble and insoluble fiber. What we don’t want is over-processed breads and other foods. Fiber from grains can make us feel more full and digest our food more easily.
There are two types of fiber— soluble and insoluble. Both are beneficial to our health.
Soluble fiber absorbs water and turns into a gel-like consistency that slows down digestion. It is helpful for satiety and keeping you from getting hungry quickly. Soluble fiber also helps slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, so it can help keep blood sugar levels stable. It can be found in foods like oat bran, nuts, seeds, lentils, peas, barley, and some fruits and vegetables. It is also found in psyllium, a common fiber supplement,
Insoluble fiber is not digested by the body. It is helpful for clearing out the build up and toxins in the gastro-intestinal tract as it moves through your system. Insoluble fiber also helps get the digestive system moving and eliminate any constipation. It can be found in oats, wheat, whole grain couscous, brown rice, beans, and veggies like carrots, celery, and cauliflower.
Tips to Increase Fiber Intake:
- Snack on whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
- Replace white pasta, bread, and rice with brown rise and whole grain products.
- Snack on raw vegetables instead of chips, crackers, or chocolate.
- Substitute beans or legumes for meat two or three times per week.
Fiber Nourishes Your Microbiome
Your gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of beneficial microbes that live in a symbiotic relationship with you. These microbes need to eat to survive and grow, so they obtain nourishment from the undigested part of the food, (fiber), that is passing through your intestines by fermenting it. The type of fiber that promotes growth of the intestinal microbiome is called prebiotic fibers. Not all fiber is considered prebiotic.
The gut microbiome shapes intestinal immune responses to prevent disease.The good bacteria compete for space in the intestines, blocking the disease-causing bacteria from taking hold.
Reasons to Eat More Fiber:
Fiber Keeps You More Full
Due to fiber being hard to break down. It stays in the gastrointestinal tract longer compared to simple carbohydrates or fruit. Some studieshave shown that high-fiber diets help you eat less, which can impact weight loss or gain. Food high in protein and fiber are more satiating.
Fiber Helps Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease
High intake of dietary fiber has been linked to lower risk of heart disease in large studies done. (1) In a study at Harvard on over 40,000 male health professionals, researchers found that a high dietary fiber intake was linked to a 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease. (2). A similar study done with female nurses showed similar results. (3)
Eating a diet high in fiber is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, mostly because it kelps reduce “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Fiber, soluble fiber in particular, can support the reduction of LDL cholesterol with impacting food high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
Fiber Reduces Constipation and Promotes Healthy Elimination
Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the U.S. The consumption of fiber seems to reduce and prevent constipation.
Fiber helps you have better elimination through several mechanisms that increase the weight of the stool, making it easier to pass. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool making the stool larger. Insoluble fibers absorb water and soften the stool for easy elimination.
Fiber Supports Healthy Blood Sugar Levels and Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Eating meals with mostly sugar or simple carbohydrates can cause a spike and drop in your blood sugar levels. Meals with high fiber can help slow down the emptying of the stomach, resulting in a trickle of sugar into the bloodstream.
Researchers are looking at how diets low in fiber and high in foods that cause a sudden increase in blood sugar are linked to the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. A slower release of sugar into the blood stream maintains a constant energy stream, rather than energy peaks and drops. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies as your carbohydrate sources work to support a healthy blood glucose levels.
How Much Fiber Do We Need?
The Institute of Medicine recommends that adult men consume around 30-38g of fiber per day and adult women consumer 21-25g per day for optimal health. Children and adults need at least 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day for good health, according to Harvard School of Public Health.Yet, most Americans get less than 15 grams a day. If you have a low fiber diet, increase your intake slowly and gradually. If you increase the fiber intake drastically (like anything), you may experience some gas, cramping, and bloating.
Some Options to Add Into Your Diet
- Fresh Fruits: All fruits tend to be high in fiber. Berries, figs, and pears are especially high in fiber.
- Leafy Greens:Spinach, kale, or collard greens sautéed, tossed into a salad, or blended into a smoothie boost your fiber levels and give you extra vitamins and minerals.
- Fresh Vegetables: All vegetables are great. Brussels sprouts, artichokes, and turnips hare high in fiber.
- Whole Grains: Whole grains leave the full grain intact and includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. Old-fashioned oats, quinoa, or wheat berries are very satiating and full of fiber!
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and other nuts are great to get fiber and have a healthy dosage of fats and proteins! We also recommend adding chia seeds and flax seed to oatmeal or smoothies.
1. Pereira MA, O’Reilly E, Augustsson K, et al. Dietary fiber and risk of coronary heart disease: a pooled analysis of cohort studies. Arch Intern Med. 2004; 164: 370-6.2. Rimm EB, Ascherio A, Giovannucci E, Spiegelman D, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Vegetable, fruit, and cereal fiber intake and risk of coronary heart disease among men. JAMA. 1996; 275: 447-51.
3. Brown L, Rosner B, Willett WW, Sacks FM. Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999; 69: 30-42.