If you’re asking what exactly it is we’re suggesting everyone eat plenty of, that’s a good question! Way to bring an appropriate level of skepticism to the table!
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found only in plants. We are unable to digest it because our bodies don’t produce the enzymes necessary to do so. Accordingly, fiber passes right through undigested and typically winds up as a waste product.
Even though we don’t digest it, fiber plays a major role in human health and is one of the major reasons consuming fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes is so important.
The fiber we eat falls into two categories, each of which assists different functions in the body.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. This leads to slower digestion, allows for slower absorption of nutrients, and can play a role in helping control blood sugar when carbohydrate-heavy foods are consumed. Increasing fiber and whole grain intake has been shown to improve glycemic control, decrease blood lipids, and decrease inflammation.
A type of soluble fiber called prebiotics help feed our microbiome, the healthy bacteria that live in our gut which play a key role in our immune health and produce vitamins in the body like B12 and K. Increasing prebiotic fiber intake has been shown to increase healthy bacteria levels in just two weeks! Prebiotic rich foods include inulin (found in our gumdrops), bananas, asparagus, oats, apples, flax seed, onion, and garlic.
Soluble fiber may also decrease your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol — just 3g of soluble fiber from oats was shown to decrease cholesterol significantly. Oats contain a fiber called “beta-glucans” that are particularly good at this. Pectin — found in apples — is helpful in decreasing cholesterol as well. Try this next time you don’t know what to have for breakfast: hot oatmeal with almond milk, chopped apples, a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Other foods that are high in soluble fiber include: oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, apples, citrus fruits, strawberries, and many vegetables.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, and adds bulk to stool by acting like a broom, sweeping digested food waste through your bowels. In short, it keeps things moving!
If you're consuming a lower fiber diet now, increasing your fiber intake can help increase your frequency of bowel movements. Eating more fiber can even have a laxative effect, decreasing constipation symptoms.
Some good sources of insoluble fiber are wheat bran, green beans, dark leafy greens, carrots, beets, fruit skins, and most whole grains.
Now that you’re ready to hop aboard the fiber bandwagon, the USDA recommends men consume 30g of it per day, and women get 25g of daily fiber.
If your diet is currently low in fiber-rich foods, it’s normal to experience bloating until your gut can adjust to increased fiber. Consider gradually adding more fiber-rich foods to your routine.
To get an idea of just how much fiber you can find in some common foods, take a look below:
½ cup lentils: 8 grams
½ cup chickpeas: 6 g
½ cup sweet potato: 3 g
½ cup edamame: 4 g
½ cup mushrooms: 2 g
½ cup raspberries: 4 g
¼ cup passionfruit: 6 g
1 medium orange: 4 g
1 oz pumpkin seeds: 5 g
1 tbsp chia seeds: 4 g
½ cup avocado: 5 g
Sure, you could sit there and put down a bowl or two of lentil soup for every meal, but most likely, you’re going to prefer tacking on a bit more fiber here and there, throughout your day.
Sprinkling 1 tbsp flax seeds over your fruit and yogurt parfait adds 3 grams of fiber.
Swapping 1 cup of potatoes for 1 cup of winter squash adds 3 grams of fiber.
Trading in your typical office takeout lunch one day a week for a kencko speed dhal bowl, which contains 9 grams of fiber.
Adding a handful of nuts to a midday snack can add 2-3 grams of fiber.
Tossing in ½ cup of beets to your next salad will give it 2 grams of fiber.
As with any nutritional change you make, taking small steps is key to sticking to it. Pick a meal each day — or a snack — and start to add more fiber-rich foods to it. Over time, your habits will shift, and your body will get used to the added fiber!.