Fiber 101: Why you should intake fiber
9 out of 10 Americans are not eating enough fiber. Part of the problem may be due to the association with bathroom habits. What does fiber do for your overall health? Fiber 101:
Table of Contents
Fiber (roughage) is the part of plant-based foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans) that the body can’t break down. It passes through the body undigested, keeping your digestive system clean and healthy, easing bowel movements, and flushing cholesterol and harmful carcinogens out of the body.
Types of fiber
Fiber comes in 2 varieties: insoluble and soluble. Many foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It is the bulky fiber that helps to prevent constipation. Intestinal bacteria can digest insoluble fiber to a limited degree through fermentation. If you consume large quantities, it may act as a mild laxative by irritating the intestinal lining.
Source: Whole grains, wheat bran, wheat cereals, and vegetables (carrots, celery, and tomatoes)
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps control blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol.
- Soluble, nonviscous, fermentable: This type of fiber dissolves but doesn’t thicken or add bulk to the stool: not effective as a laxative supplement. It’s easily fermented, which is great for promoting healthy intestinal flora. However, fermentation can produce excess gas, leading to flatulence.
Ex: inulin, dextrin
- Soluble Viscous non-gel-forming and non-fermentable: This type of fiber mixes evenly in water. Since it is not fermented and is present in stool it does help to increase stool contents.
Ex: Calcium Polycarbophil, Methyl-cellulose
- Soluble, viscous, gel-forming, and fermentable: This type of fiber expands in water to form a thick gel. This slows digestion and absorption of food and sugar. It also traps cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed. However, bacteria consume it reducing its gel formation: not useful as a laxative.
Ex: Beta glucan
- Soluble, viscous, gel-forming, and non-fermentable: This type of fiber forms a gel, adding water and bulk to the stool, but cannot be consumed by intestinal bacteria: it doesn’t cause excess flatulence. It also helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It is ideal as a supplement. It is found in the fiber in Metamucil, psyllium.
Sources: barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, and fruits (apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears)
Health benefits of fiber
help with digestive health and bowel function
Dietary fiber normalizes bowel movements by bulking up stools and making them easier to pass: this can help relieve and prevent both constipation and diarrhea. Eating plenty of fiber can also reduce your risk for diverticulitis (inflammation of the intestine), hemorrhoids, gallstones, kidney stones, and provide some relief for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke
Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, is an important element of any heart-healthy diet. Eating a diet high in fiber can improve cholesterol levels by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. A high fiber intake can also reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors linked to coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Fiber can also help to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and improve levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
can lower your risk for diabetes
A diet high in fiber, particularly insoluble fiber, can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. If you already have diabetes, eating soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and improve your blood sugar levels.
may help prevent colon cancer
Some research that suggests eating a high-fiber diet can help prevent colorectal cancer and other common digestive system cancers (stomach, mouth, and pharynx), though the evidence is not conclusive yet.
help you lose weight
A high fiber intake can help weight loss:
- prevent constipation
Dietary fiber normalizes bowel movements by bulking up stools and making them easier to pass.
- help you feel full sooner
Since fiber stays in the stomach longer than other foods, that feeling of fullness will stay with you much longer, helping you to eat less.
- help you reduce calorie intakes
High-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables tend to be low in calories. So adding fiber to your diet helps you cut calories.
- help you burn fat
By regulating your blood sugar levels, it can help maintain your body’s fat-burning capacity and avoid insulin spikes that leave you feeling drained and craving unhealthy foods.
- prevent fat from being absorbed
Eating fiber helps move fat through your digestive system at a faster rate so that less of it can be absorbed.
- give you more energy
When you consume high-fiber foods, you’ll have more energy for exercising.
improve the health of your skin
When yeast and fungus are excreted through the skin, they can trigger outbreaks of acne. Eating fiber, especially psyllium husk (a type of plant seed), can flush toxins out of your body, improving the health and looks of your skin.
Daily recommended fiber intake
Depending on your age and gender, eat at least 21 to 38 g of fiber per day for optimal health. Research suggests that most of us aren’t eating half that amount.
Tips on adding high fiber foods
It’s best to start adding fiber gradually to your diet and increase your water intake.
Adding a large amount of fiber too fast can sometimes cause side effects – abdominal cramps, intestinal gas, bloating, or diarrhea. These should go away once your digestive system becomes used to the increase.
Fiber absorbs water. The more fiber you add to your diet, the more fluids you should drink.
Make a high-fiber snack
Make healthy snacks with fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables, nuts, and whole-grain crackers are great ways to add fiber.
Include the legumes
Add kidney beans, peas, lentils, or black beans to a green salad or soups.
While the best way to get fiber is from foods naturally rich in fiber: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, taking a fiber supplement could help when you can’t get the foods. Supplements can also be useful to top up your daily intake while increasing fiber in your diet. The key is to add fiber gradually, starting from the small amounts to avoid the side effects.
Fiber supplements come in various forms: powders, chewable tablets, and wafers. However, there are some drawbacks unlike getting fibers from foods:
- Supplements won’t fill you up or help you manage your weight.
- Fiber supplements won’t provide the same vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients offered by high-fiber foods.
- Fiber supplements can interact with some medications, including certain antidepressants, cholesterol-lowering medications, and the anticoagulant drug warfarin. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking a supplement.
- If you have diabetes, fiber supplements may also reduce your blood sugar levels. So, check with your doctor before adding supplements to your diet.
Foods that contain fiber
In general, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher it is in fiber.
- There is no fiber in meat, dairy, or sugar.
- Refined or “white” foods, such as white bread, white rice, and pastries, have had all or most of their fiber removed.
Best High fiber Foods
- Whole grains
- Nuts & Seeds
Most vegetables are high in fiber, so include more fresh produce in your daily diet.
Make healthy snacks
Wash and cut fruit and vegetables and put them in your refrigerator for quick high-fiber snacks.
Eat the peel
The peel contains nutrients including fiber in fruits and vegetables and completely edible. Eat the peel of fruits like apples and pears.
Bulk up soups and salads
Salads don’t need to be just lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Make a more exciting salad by adding nuts, seeds, or beans. Beans, peas, lentils, and rice make tasty high-fiber additions to soups and stews.
Incorporate veggies into your cooking
Add pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces. Mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce or toss fresh baby carrots into stews. Easy and simple can be healthy!
High in sulforaphane, low in calories, broccoli also offers fiber.
DRI (daily recommended fiber intake – 28g): about 9 cups (3.2 g/cup)
2. Brussels sprouts
These can be boiled, broiled, pan-fried, or sliced up raw in a slaw, though you must consume tons to reach the daily requirement.
DRI (28g): about 7 cups of brussels sprouts (4 g /cup)
You got to eat whole a lot of asparagus to reach the daily fiber requirement.
DRI (28g): 83 asparagus spears
Artichoke hearts are packed with fiber. Great on salad, pizza, vegetable dip, or soup, etc. If you’re eating canned, watch out for sodium levels.
DRI (28g): 4 artichokes/2 cup cooked
5. Acorn squash
Cut out the stem, scoop the seeds and bake until tender. Or prepare stuffed acorn squash using wild rice, quinoa, or ground beef.
DRI (28g): about 3 cups of acorn squash
6. Green peas
A great source of iron, manganese, and vitamins A and C. If you make a soup with them, you can consume them so easily.
DRI (28g): 3 cups of green peas (9 g/cup)
7. Turnip greens
An excellent source of beta carotene and vitamin K with a mild flavor. Use them like spinach and other leafy greens for green smoothies or juice.
DRI (28g): about 5.5 cups of turnip greens
Whether you eat them raw or cooked, you’ll get all the benefits of 4.68 g of fiber in each cup. FYI: Lightly steamed carrots will release more of their beta carotene.
DRI (28g): about 6 cups of carrots
Riced cauliflower is a low-carb alternative to starchy vegetables and can be made into pizza crust and rice.
DRI (28g): about 8.5 cups of cooked cauliflowers
Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, purple potatoes, and even plain white potato are all good sources of fiber; one small potato with skin can provide close to 3 g of fiber.
If not fried in oil and slathered in salt, potatoes can provide many benefits. And, the fiber in potatoes can help protect the intestinal wall from potentially harmful chemicals found in some foods and drinks.
Most fruits are high in fiber, so include more fresh produce in your daily diet.
Eat whole fruits instead of juice
In that way, you’ll get more fiber and consume fewer calories.
- 8oz. glass of orange juice: almost no fiber and about 110 calories
- 1 medium fresh orange: about 3g of fiber and only 60 calories.
Add fruit to your breakfast
Berries are high in fiber, so try adding fresh berries – blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or blackberries to your morning cereal, yogurt, or smoothie.
Replace dessert with fruit
Eat fruits instead of dessert. It’s healthier, more nutritious, and filling with fiber. It’s still tasty!
Eat the peel
The peel contains nutrients including fiber in fruits and vegetables and completely edible. Don’t throw it away. Eat the peel of fruits like apples and pears.
Avocado provides great nutrients – protein, healthy fats, etc. Avocado toast, guacamole, salads, smoothies – you can enjoy it so many ways!
DRI (28g): about 3 avocados (9 g/M-size avocado)
It’s particularly high in pectin (a type of soluble fiber).
DRI (28g): 7 apples (4.4 g/apple)
Strawberries are a great source of vitamin C. You may need to consume them with other high-fiber foods or supplements like Metamucil.
DRI (28g): about 6 cups of strawberries
Bananas are so versatile, nutritious, and filling – a great way to add some fiber to a meal or snack.
DRI (28g): 9 bananas (3 g/M-size banana)
Super easy to add various food and drinks – by themselves, baking, a smoothie, etc.
DRI (28g): About 2 cups of raspberries
Pears are a great source of fiber. Compared to other fruits, they’re particularly high in soluble fiber.
DRI (28g): about 4.5 pears (6g/M-sized pear)
Refined or processed foods are lower in fiber content, so try to include whole grains in your diet.
Start your day with fiber
Add whole grains to your breakfast. Simply switch your corn flakes with bran flakes – you can add an extra 6 g of fiber to your diet. Switching to All-Bran or Fiber-One will boost it even more. If you don’t like those, add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with brown rice and whole-grain products.
Try wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta, and bulgur. These alternatives are higher in fiber than their more mainstream counterparts. Choose whole-grain bread for toast and sandwiches.
Bulk up your baking
When baking at home, substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour, since whole-grain flour is heavier than white flour. In yeast bread, use a bit more yeast or let the dough rise longer.
Try adding crushed bran cereal or unprocessed wheat bran to muffins, cakes, and cookies. Or add psyllium husk to gluten-free baked goods, such as bread, pizza dough, and pasta.
Add it in roasted vegetables or as a pilaf to add fiber to your diet.
DRI (28g): About 2 cups of cooked barley
2. Whole grain pasta
1 cup of whole grain pasta provides 5.46 grams of fiber, more than twice that of white pasta.
DRI (28g): About 5 cups of cooked whole grain pasta
Quinoa is loaded with protein and 5 g of fiber per cup, providing 40% more fiber than brown rice. Add quinoa to your dinner or dessert with cinnamon and sugar.
DRI (28g): about 5.5 cups of cooked quinoa
Great as cooked cereal, or baked in cookies, muffins, or granola, oatmeal is particularly high in heart-healthy soluble fiber.
DRI (28g): about 7 cups of oats (4 g/cup)
Air-popped popcorn is a healthy snack, yet you need to eat tons to meet the daily fiber requirement. Sprinkle nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor or experiment with your favorite herbs and spices.
DRI (28g): 1.5 gallons of popcorn
Nuts & Seeds
Great source of protein and fiber. Almond butter also contains fiber, but almond milk does not.
DRI (28g): about 1 cup of almonds (3g/oz)
Pecans provide fiber, zinc, beta carotene, and other essential nutrients. Sprinkle them on a salad and baked goods.
DRI (28g): About 1 cup of pecans
Make PB&J with whole-grain bread so you can consume a good amount of fiber.
DRI (28g): about 1 cup of roasted, unsalted peanuts
Great source for protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Sprinkle on salads, blend some into your smoothie or pack as a healthy snack.
DRI (28g): about 2 cups
5. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are a superfood – high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and soluble fiber. They’re a great thickener for smoothies or used as a crunchy topping for yogurt. They also absorb liquid – great for weight loss and hydration.
DRI (28g): 7 tablespoons (4 g/tbs)
Flaxseeds are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your total blood cholesterol. You can grind the seeds in a food processor and add them to a smoothie, yogurt, soup, or almost anything.
1. Navy beans
Navy beans are used in baked beans and soups. About 1.5 cups of cooked navy beans will get you to the 28 grams per day recommended. Or, make your bean recipes a little “extra” by substituting navy beans for other types. DRI (28g):
2. Split peas
Split peas can be used as more than just soup. They also make a great hummus-like spread or base for a curry dish.
DRI (28g): About 1.5 cups of cooked split peas.
3. Pinto beans
Pintos are great as the base for veggie burgers, burritos, soup and more.
DRI (28g): About 2 cups of cooked pinto beans
4. Kidney beans
Kidney beans are in chili recipes because they hold their shape through long cooking times and high heat without getting mushy.
DRI (28g): about 2 cups of kidney beans (13.1 g/cup)
Soybeans offer decent amounts of fiber compared to other legumes.
DRI (28g): about 3.5 cups of cooked soybeans (7.5 g/cup)
Despite the color (red, yellow, brown, or green), lentils are an excellent source of fiber and protein. Lentils are great in all kinds of soups or as the base for veggie burgers.
DRI (28g): about 2 cups of cooked lentils (15.6 g/cup)
Fiber in fast food
Many fast-food meals are packed with calories, sodium, and unhealthy fat with little or no dietary fiber.
Don’t assume that healthy-sounding dishes are always your best option
Many fast-food salads are a diet minefield, yet loaded in high-fat dressing, fried toppings with little fiber (simple lettuce greens provide only about 0.5 g of fiber per cup). Look for salads that include other vegetables, and whenever possible, up the fiber content by adding your own nuts, beans, or corn. Read the nutrition facts before you order for a wiser choice.
Pay attention to the menu descriptions
Dishes labeled “deep-fried”, “pan-fried”, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy, crispy, scalloped, or au gratin are usually high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium. Same with items in Alfredo or cream sauce.
Go for grilled or roasted lean meats.
Avoid fried and breaded items and choose leaner protein: turkey, chicken breast, lean ham, or lean roast beef instead. Grilled skinless chicken is usually your best option.
Watch out on the portion
Many fast-food meals deliver enough food for several meals in the guise of a single serving. Avoid supersized and value-sized items, and go for the smallest size when it comes to sandwiches, burgers, and sides. You can go for the children’s menu.
Make a special order
Many menu items can be made healthier with a few tweaks and substitutions.
- No sauce or sauce on the side.
- Wheat bun/whole-grain bread instead of the regular bun.
- Try a veggie burger, which contains a few times more fiber than a meat burger.
- Choose a side of beans instead of French fries.
- Choose nuts or a salad over fries or potato chips.
- Combining a baked potato and a side of chili can make a tasty, high-fiber meal.
- Some chains offer oatmeal bowls for breakfast – more fiber than most breakfast sandwiches. Choose lower sugar versions if possible.
- Get a fruit cup or yogurt parfait instead of cheesecake.
Conclusion: Now you know how important to consume enough fiber for your optimal health. Adding whole foods to your diet do help you not just adding fiber but also overall health.
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