I wish fiber was cooler. Carbs are sexy, protein is hulky and fat, well fat is just delicious. But I picture fiber hiding in the corner at the school dance hoping no one makes eye contact or asks them to dance. When I start talking about fiber most people get a glazed look in their eyes and I can see them just nod their heads pretending to listen. But if you only knew how much fiber can have an impact on your digestion, gut health, immunity, weight and overall well-being, then you would think it’s pretty darn cool too.
So, what is fiber? Fiber is the part of the cellular structure of plant based foods that your body can’t break down. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate and aid in digestions, weight management, blood sugar regulation, supports gut health and stimulates the intestines providing regularity.
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble and you need both for a healthy digestive tract. The main difference is that soluble fiber (as the name states) dissolves in water and insoluble does not.Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel-like consistency that aids digestions. Insoluble absorbs water and makes your stool softer and easier to pass. Many foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber is varying amounts including whole fruits, fresh vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, seeds, bean, peas and legumes.
Dietary fiber provides many healthy benefits however the shocking news is that more than 95% of the American population is fiber deficient. Seriously, 95%. This forgotten nutrient intake has decreased with the increase in fast and convince foods that sorely lack fiber. The recommended daily amount is 14g per 1,000 calories for adults. So based on a typical 2,000 calorie diet you need about 24+g of fiber a day. Most Americans are only averaging about 16g per day!
Here are the health benefits of a high fiber diet:
- Weight management – Dietary fiber helps you feel full longer and results in a decrease in the intake of overall calories and aid in weight loss.
- Regulates blood sugar – Fiber slows down the rate that sugar is absorbed into your bloodstream, which keeps your blood glucose levels from rising too quickly.
- Cholesterol – Looking to lower your cholesterol levels? Some soluble fiber can reduce total cholesterol and LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels. Fiber helps to excrete fat and cholesterol in the small intestines instead of being absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Gut Health – Fiber is fuel for your friend gut bacteria in your colon. Fiber feeds the gut bacteria which produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA play an important role in the health of our gut and metabolism and are the main source of fuel for cells in the colon. Research is suggesting that the production of SCFA can effect appetite regulation, reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other inflammatory diseases. The higher intake of plant foods the greater amount go SCFA produced. Also, the wider variety of plants results in a wider variety of fuel for bacteria. Try and choose new fruits and vegetables, the key is getting a diverse mix of fibers in your diet since a different mix of SCFA are produced from each type of fiber we eat.
- Promotes regularity – I have to mention the benefit of regularity since that is pretty much all fiber is known for. So, if you need some assistance moving things along consistently, look to your good friend fiber to help.
So now that you know what fiber can do for you, here are a few easy ways to increase the amount of fiber in your diet:
- Make breakfast smoothie with dragon fruit or avocado
- Add a tablespoon of flax seeds or chia seeds to morning oatmeal or smoothie
- Snack on 1/2 cup of raspberries for a quick 4g of fiber
- Have a mixed green side salad before enjoying dinner
- Choose whole grains over refined
And remember, plant diversity is key. Next time you are at the grocery store pick a a new fruit or vegetable. An easy way your diversify your plants throughout the year is to eat seasonally.
Now a word of caution….We all know that high fiber foods may come with some uncomfortable side affect such as gas or bloating. When increasing the amount of fiber in your diet GO SLOW to avoid such symptoms. Your digestive system needs a little time to adapt to the increase and will be able to tolerate more fiber as you consistently consume more. Also drink plenty of water, since fiber absorbs water in your intestines to keep things moving efficiently.
It’s time to give fiber the attention that it deserves. Let’s count grams of fiber each meal instead of carbs, protein or fat! With the spotlight on, I can picture fiber stepping out of the shadows and break it down on the dance floor…