You’ve probably heard of “eat more fiber.” But have you ever thought about why fiber is essential for you?
In this article, you will learn (i) What is dietary fiber? (ii) Types & health benefits of dietary fiber, & (iii) Tips for increasing fiber intake.
What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber, also called roughage, is a portion of plant-derived foods that your body cannot completely digest or absorb. There are two main categories of dietary fiber based on their solubility, viscosity, and fermentability, which affect how they are processed in your body.
Unlike other food constituents, like carbohydrates, proteins, or fats (which your body can break down, digest, and absorb) — fiber is generally not digestible. Instead, most of it moves intact through your stomach, small intestine, & colon and is finally excreted from your body in the form of waste.
Dietary fiber is of two main types: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, which are parts of plant food products, like legumes, beans, whole grains, cereals, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Soluble fiber: This type of fiber can dissolve in water to form a gel-like substance. It helps reduce blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Oats, barley, beans, peas, carrots, apples, and citrus fruits contain soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber does not dissolve in water. It forms roughage, which facilitates the movement of material through your digestive system. It increases stool bulk, so it benefits those who struggle with irregular stools or constipation. Wheat bran, whole-wheat flour, beans, nuts, and vegetables, like cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.
The amount of insoluble and soluble fiber varies in different plant foods. Therefore, try to eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods to maximize their health benefits.
Health Benefits of a High-Fiber Diet
A high-fiber diet:
(i) Normalizes bowel movements: Dietary fiber softens your stool and increases its size & weight. As a result, the stool is easier to pass, decreasing your chance of constipation. On the other hand, if you have loose, watery stools, fiber can help solidify the stool as it absorbs water and adds bulk to it.
Tip: The fiber from oat bran & wheat bran is considered more effective than the fiber contained in fruits and vegetables. Increase your fiber intake gradually. And since fiber absorbs water, you should also increase your liquid intake as you increase your fiber intake.
(ii) Lowers cholesterol: Soluble fiber can sop up excess bad cholesterol and ferry it out of your body. That may help reduce the risk of your arteries getting clogged, lower the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
(iii) Regulates blood sugar levels: Fiber, especially soluble fiber, can slow down the absorption of sugar. That helps keep the blood sugar level steady, preventing it from rising rapidly. So, a healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
(iv) Manages Weight: High-fiber foods are generally more filling than low-fiber foods, which can help keep you fuller longer – preventing overeating.
How much fiber do you need?
According to the Institute of Medicine, the daily fiber recommendations for adults are:
Daily Fiber Recommendations For Adults
|Age 50 or less||Age 51 or more|
|Institute of Medicine|
|Men||38 grams||30 grams|
|Women||25 grams||21 grams|
Best fiber food options
If you aren’t getting enough fiber each day, you may need to increase your intake by including the following foods in your everyday diet:
- Whole-grain products
- Beans, peas, and other legumes
- Nuts and seeds
Tip: Refined or processed foods are low in fiber. Some examples are white bread and pasta, non-whole-grain cereals, canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices. The grain-refining process eliminates the grain’s bran (outer coat), which reduces its fiber portion. Enriched processed foods may have some B vitamins and iron added back, but not the fiber.
(i) Don’t add & start eating a lot of fiber at once. Suddenly overdoing it can cause abdominal bloating, intestinal gas, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea since your system is not ready to process a sudden increase in fiber intake. These problems are likely to go away over time as your digestive system gets used to the higher fiber intake. But we recommend that you increase fiber intake gradually over a few weeks to avoid digestive system problems.
(ii) Make sure to drink plenty of fluids every day. Increasing the water intake will help move fiber through your digestive system and avert stomach distress.
Tips to help you add more fiber to your daily diet
Try to get fiber from different sources because overeating one type of source will not provide you with a balanced diet. The following are some suggestions to increase fiber intake:
(i) Jump-start your day: For breakfast, opt for a high-fiber breakfast cereal — five or more grams of fiber per serving. Choose cereals with “bran,” “whole grain,” or “fiber” on the label. Or add a tablespoon of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
(ii) Go for whole grains: Switch to whole grains such as brown rice, wild rice, or bulgur instead of refined grains such as white rice. Choose bread that lists whole-wheat flour, whole wheat, or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label and has at least two grams of dietary fiber per serving. For pasta, go for the types made from quinoa or pulses such as chickpeas and lentils.
Note: Use mostly whole-grain flour instead of white flour when baking. Consider adding unprocessed wheat bran, crushed bran cereal, or uncooked oatmeal to cakes, muffins, and cookies.
(iii) Eat more legumes: Pulses (the seeds of plants in the legume family) like beans, lentils, and peas are good sources of fiber. You can add them as a plant-based protein in meatless dishes or as the starch side instead of grains.
(iv) Include vegetables & fruits in every meal: Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals. Try to eat five or more servings each day. For example, eat the fruit for breakfast or as a snack, and vegetables at lunch or dinnertime.
(v) Opt for nuts, seeds, and fruit for snacks: A handful of nuts & dried fruits, low-fat popcorn, and whole-grain crackers are excellent choices as healthy, high-fiber snacks. You can also add them to other items like yogurt, oatmeal, or salads. But keep in mind nuts, and dried fruits are high in calories.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, USA obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me, age is just a number!”