Fiber has many benefits, from keeping you regular to aiding in weight loss. But chances are, you may not be getting enough fiber in your diet. Research indicates that most Americans are not getting enough fiber Why? Because they are consuming too many processed foods in the Standard American Diet.
Also, many people with GI conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Colitis aren’t even sure how many grams of fiber they should be eating to best manage their symptoms. At Anderson’s Nutrition we have a robust GI Nutrition Program led by our expert Registered Dietitians that can help you (among other things) determine the fiber intake that is best for you.
To give your body all the benefits of fiber, it might be time to reach for an extra helping of leafy greens, add berries to oatmeal, or switch to whole-grain toast with breakfast. If you need more reasons to increase your fiber intake, keep reading!
First, What is Fiber?
Before we jump in on the benefits, let’s explain what fiber really is. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. Most carbohydrates are broken down into sugar molecules that your body uses as fuel, but fiber is the exception. Surprisingly, this is actually a good thing.
Because fiber is not digested in the body, it helps with weight management and blood sugar control. It also promotes heart health, aids in digestion and can even help prevent cancer.
Fiber comes in two varieties, soluble and insoluble. The two are often times found together, but not always. Both types play important roles in our health. However, not all fiber is created equal. Different types have different health effects. Below is a breakdown of the 2 types.
According to the Mayo Clinic, soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. The benefits of this type of fiber include lower blood cholesterol and lower glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in grains, fruits, and vegetables. Here are a few foods that are higher in soluble fiber:
- citrus fruits
- chia seeds
Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, also has a number of benefits. It helps food move through your digestive system, promoting regularity and preventing constipation. Foods that contain insoluble fiber include:
- whole wheat products
- leafy greens veggies
What Are Some Health Benefits of Fiber?
Fiber has a ton of health benefits, from preventing constipation to reducing blood sugar numbers. It also helps with gut health in general. Many of these benefits are mediated by your gut microbiota, which are the millions of bacteria that live in your digestive system. Let’s discuss some of the main ways that fiber can improve overall health.
1. Weight Management
One key benefit of fiber is that it plays a role in weight loss. One study found that participants who added fiber to their diet lost significant weight as a result. That weight loss was in the form of body fat.
Here’s yet another benefit of fiber: Fiber-rich foods keep you feeling full for longer, which helps control calorie intake. In addition, fiber can prevent the body from absorbing some of the calories in foods that are consumed. For example, fiber can bind with fat and sugar molecules as they travel through the digestive tract. This in turn reduces the number of calories absorbed by the body.
2. Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Another benefit of fiber is its role in preventing heart disease. How? Soluble fiber can reduce both “bad” LDL and overall cholesterol. It does this by binding with cholesterol particles in the digestive system, and moving them out of the body before they are absorbed. So when you eat foods with dietary cholesterol and pair them with fiber-rich grains or veggies, you can actually decrease the absorption of the cholesterol.
Additionally, fiber binds to the bile salts in the GI tract, which prevents cholesterol from being reabsorbed. As a result, the body needs to tap into the stored cholesterol, which has the added benefit of improving your lab values.
Lastly, fiber is known to lower blood pressure. This is most likely due to the increase in the diet of whole food fruit and vegetables, with a corresponding decrease in ultra-processed foods that are usually loaded with sodium.
3. Improved Intestinal Health
Yet another benefit of fiber is that it can help improve overall intestinal health.
First, it can help treat and prevent constipation and normalize bowel movements. Constipation is generally defined as having three or fewer bowel movements a week, or difficulty/pain passing them. Higher fiber diets make the large intestines contract to move food out of the body, which reduces the risk of constipation and helps improve intestinal health. (NOTE: Staying hydrated is key! Adding too much fiber without liquids can actually cause bloating and constipation.)
Yet another benefit of a high fiber diet: It may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease).
4. Blood Sugar Regulation
Fiber plays a key role in the regulation of blood sugar, which is another key benefit. Fiber keeps blood sugar levels in our body steady, and also keeps us feeling full. Additionally, consuming more dietary fiber can slow the absorption of sugar in the body and help improve blood sugar levels. Therefore a healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Fiber also helps ward off insulin resistance. It’s estimated that about 88% of Americans are metabolically unhealthy, but fiber can help reverse this statistic. Time and time again, it has been proven that fiber keeps blood sugar levels lower throughout the day. Fiber basically dilutes sugars, so they take longer to get absorbed into the bloodstream.
5. Decreased Risk of Cancer
Increased fiber consumption may decrease the risk of colon and breast cancers, which is yet another key benefit.
Some fiber is fermented in the colon, and researchers are examining the role this plays in preventing diseases of the colon. In addition, eating more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, can further decrease the odds of getting cancer. Fiber also helps keep gut microbiota in check, which helps build the immune system, since bacteria feeds off fiber.
When there’s no fiber available to eat, some forms of gut bacteria turn to the lining that protects the colon, which is not good. Basically, fiber keeps pro-inflammatory cells in check, improving overall gut health.
Tips for Increasing Fiber Intake
With any type of dietary change, it does not have to be all or nothing! We like the “crowding out” approach. The more fiber-rich foods you add to your diet, the less likely you are to choose ultra processed foods. Here are some tips for increasing the fiber in your diet:
- Meal Prep. Start meal prepping more plant-based foods. Cut up veggies to have in the fridge for a quick and easy fiber-filled snack. With these at the ready, you’ll be more likely to reach for them. Serve them with a healthy dip like tzatziki or hummus.
- Make some simple swaps. You can swap your regular bowl of cereal for oatmeal or this high fiber brand we love! You can also switch to berries instead of lower-fiber fruit like grapes.
- Meatless Mondays. There are ways to add more fiber to regular meals. Adding lentils in place of ground meat can be one of them! We love lentil tacos or this lentil soup recipe.
- Start Slow. You don’t want to add all of this fiber at once! This can cause some major bloating and constipation. Start slow by adding 1-2 servings of fiber per day, letting your body adjust. Then add an additional serving the following week until your reach your fiber goal. Make sure to stay hydrated when increasing fiber!
- Get Creative. Food should be fun! We like recipes like this fiber-rich PB&J Smoothie.
How Much Fiber Should You Get?
According to the American Heart Association, children and adults both need at least 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day for good health. Most Americans get only about 15 grams a day, which is not nearly enough!
Specifically, the USDA’s recommended daily amount for adults up to age 50 is 25 grams for women, and 38 grams for men. Women and men who are older than 50 should get 21 grams and 30 grams respectively. Getting fiber from food is important. You are not only getting fiber, but also an abundance of vitamins and minerals to improve overall health.
It’s best to meet with a specialized health professional (for example, a Registered Dietitian) to assess your nutritional status and review other biomarkers, to gain a true understanding of your overall health. Having the support of a professional is key to making informed decisions and devising a plan that is best suited to your unique needs. If you need help incorporating more fiber rich foods into your diet, we also have a robust meal planning program that can help! Meet with a Registered Dietitian to get started on your health and wellness journey.