When you think of fiber, what image comes to your head? Your grandma’s box of prunes? An orange-flavored, gritty drink? Not very appetizing to say the least. Perhaps this is why, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 90% of Americans are not meeting their daily fiber requirements. But fiber plays an important role as part of a healthy diet and is more than prunes and powder.
Fiber comes from the plant-based parts of foods that our bodies cannot digest and has numerous health benefits. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and they both help in unique ways. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and, when ingested, forms a gel which pulls the bad cholesterol out of your body. Soluble fiber also slows stomach emptying, which can help you to control your blood sugar levels. By these mechanisms, soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol and aid in blood glucose control. Soluble fiber can also help promote weight loss or help you maintain a healthy weight by increasing satiety. While most carbohydrates break down quickly, fiber remains intact as it passes through the digestive tract, making you feel fuller for longer. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber accelerates the movement of food through the GI tract and helps promote healthy bowel movements. Good sources of fiber are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
The USDA recommends that fiber intake should be based off of calorie intake, and suggests 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. This equals approximately 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams for men per day. The USDA estimates that the average American consumes only 15 grams of fiber daily. Since fiber is so important to a healthy diet, here are some simple tips to increasing your daily intake of fiber:
Make half your grains whole.
Choose whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and 100% whole wheat bread. Whole grains can have double the amount of fiber as refined grains.
Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
Since fruits and vegetables are typically high in fiber, increasing your intake is an easy way to increase your daily fiber. Choosing fruits and vegetables as snacks can help you meet your fiber goals. While all fruits and vegetables have fiber, some choices have more than others. High fiber fruits and vegetables include: pears, apples, bananas, berries, broccoli, artichokes, and Brussels sprouts.
Choose whole fruits and vegetables over juices.
Juicing fruits and vegetables removes most of the natural fiber content from the food and can leave a concentrated amount of sugar. By removing the fiber, the glycemic index of the fruit becomes significantly higher, and can cause your blood sugar to rise much faster.
Eat more beans and legumes.
Beans and legumes are often overlooked and can really help bump up your daily fiber intake. Just one cup of beans can provide more than half of your daily fiber needs Bean and legumes also provide important vitamins and minerals that your body needs, and are an excellent source of protein.
Add high fiber foods to meals you already eat.
Add berries to your morning cereal. A scoop of chia seeds or ground flax seed to your yogurt or oatmeal will provide extra fiber as well as a satisfying crunch. Adding vegetables to soups and casseroles can easily add more fiber to your meals.
Take a fiber supplement.
If you are still having difficulty consuming enough fiber, you may consider supplementation. Psyllium is found in the popular fiber supplement, Metamucil. Studies suggest that psyllium intake may increase fullness and decrease hunger between meals. Or, for the young at heart, fiber supplements are even available as gummies!
If you have not been meeting your fiber requirements and want to start, begin slowly. Increase your fiber intake by 5 grams a day until you reach your recommended amount. Adding too much fiber too quickly may cause GI discomfort such as gas and bloating. Increase your fluid intake as well, as fiber works best in your body with adequate water. Be sure to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. As always, talk to your doctor if you have and gastrointestinal issues to see if a high fiber diet is appropriate for you. By adopting these simple strategies, you can optimize your fiber intake and be on your way to meeting your fiber requirements with healthy and delicious food. Your gut will thank you!