Many people have been told to eat more fiber at some point in their lifetime, but may not actually know what it is or why it is so important. The recommended minimum daily intake for fiber is 25g for women and 38g for men, while most individuals only consume around 15g a day on average. Dietary fiber is the edible portion of plant foods that cannot be digested by our bodies. Normally, our bodies are able to digest all other nutrients such as fats, proteins, or carbohydrates by digestive enzymes in our gastrointestinal tract. However, fiber is resistant to these enzymes and passes intact through the stomach, small intestine, and colon.
Fiber can be classified into two different categories- soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material. This type of fiber is most helpful in lowering cholesterol and managing blood sugar levels. Some sources include oats, beans, peas, and apples. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps promote movement of other material through the digestive tract, which can be beneficial for those who have issues with constipation. Some sources include wheat bran, potatoes, and cauliflower.
Both types of fiber have major benefits such as potentially reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and diverticular disease, and can lead to improvements in overall health. High fiber foods are usually more filling, which can lead to less overeating and snacking between meal times. These foods also tend to be more “nutrient dense”, meaning that they have a high amount of nutritional value without containing excessive calories. This can be beneficial for those who are trying to reach or maintain a healthy weight.
Ways to Increase Fiber Intake:
Switch to whole grain items– try making at least half of your grains whole grains. Look for products that list whole wheat, whole wheat flour, or whole grain as the first or second ingredient on the food label. Try finding foods that have at least 2-3 grams of fiber per serving.
Eat more fruits and vegetables– both are great fiber sources and are high in essential vitamins and minerals. Try having these as a part of a meal or substitute one as a snack during the day.
Choose higher fiber snacks– in addition to fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds are also good sources of fiber. One handful can provide at least 4g of fiber. Try having them as a snack or adding them to other foods. Avocados are also a good fiber option, providing almost 5g for half an avocado. Just make sure to be mindful of the portion sizes, as both are still fat sources.
Add more beans– beans, lentils, dried peas, and chickpeas are all great fiber sources and are usually less expensive than some sources. These items can be added to any dish to help up the fiber content. Even a small portion can make a big difference.
Most individuals consume well below the recommended minimum of 25g of fiber a day and would greatly benefit from an increased intake. It is usually recommended to start increasing your fiber intake slowly and increasing the amount of water you drink to get adjusted, as adding too much additional fiber at once can cause some uncomfortable gastrointestinal effects.