Filling Up On Fiber: Health Benefits, Daily Diet Tips, and More!
By: Danielle Hall, RDN
What’s the deal with filling up on fiber? We constantly hear from experts that an increase in fiber is essential to our diet, but why? What is fiber, and how can we healthily increase our daily consumption?
Dietary fiber comes from the part of the plant that resists digestion and absorption in the small intestine. There are two primary groups of fiber known as insoluble and soluble, both of which have various health benefits.
Insoluble fiber is the tough, plant fibers found in whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Think along the lines of the plant stalks, skins, and seeds. This tough fiber does not dissolve in water and ends up bulking up waste in the digestive tract. This bulking action helps promote regular bowel movements and prevents constipation.
Soluble fiber, on the other hand, is soft, absorbs water, and forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract. Soluble fiber is often found in beans, peas, whole grains, and fruits. It helps soften stool and allows waste to pass easily through the digestive tract. Due to its stickiness, soluble fiber binds to things like cholesterol and sugar, preventing or slowing their absorption into the body.
A recent study published in The Lancet, commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), reviewed more than 240 clinical trials. It found that people who consumed 25-29 grams of fiber per day decreased their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colorectal cancer by 5-27 percent.
Other health benefits of fiber include lower cholesterol levels; controlled blood sugar levels; a healthy and diverse microbiome; decreased risk of cardiovascular complications; and prevention of hemorrhoids and diverticular disease, often caused by a low-fiber diet. Fiber also aids in achieving a healthy weight, since high-fiber foods tend to be more filling.
So, how much fiber should we eat? Women should aim for 25 grams per day, and men, 30. Unfortunately, according to the most recent study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average American consumes only 15 grams of dietary fiber a day.
Unsure of how to increase your daily fiber intake? It’s easier than you may think. Just try the following:
- Choose foods high in fiber, such as whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, and barley. Other high-fiber sources include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.
- Avoid low-fiber foods, such as refined and processed carbohydrates. These include white rice, plain white pasta, white bread, crackers, and pancakes.
- Avoid refined hot and cold cereals - which contain less than 1 gram of fiber per serving - and most canned or well-cooked vegetables and fruits without skins or seeds.
- Read your food labels and aim for 3 grams of fiber or more per serving.
- Set a goal of eating a minimum of three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day. Aim for beans, lentils and peas at least three times a week. Snack on nuts and seeds, along with fruit, and swap out processed snacks with fiber-rich alternatives.
Fiber supplements are generally only recommended for those with conditions that warrant them, such as chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea. If you don’t suffer from any of these, it’s best to stick to whole foods. Always check with your doctor or dietitian before taking any supplements.
Remember to be mindful in your quest to increase fiber! A drastic increase in fiber may cause gas and bloating. The rule of thumb is to increase your water consumption throughout the day as you increase your fiber consumption. Your body will adjust over time, and thank you in the long run!
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