What do fiber do?

Why Is Fiber Important for Your Digestive Health?

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We hear a lot about the health benefits of protein — but all too often, the pros of eating fiber go overlooked. Everyday Health reached out to 10 digestive health experts and asked them exactly how fiber boosts your digestive health (and whether it’s possible to eat too much).

Mark Babyatsky, MD, chair of the department of medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City

Dietary fiber, found particularly in vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains, helps to keep bowel movements regular. Individuals who consume high-fiber diets have much lower rates of constipation than individuals that eat a low-fiber diet, plus they have fewer hemorrhoids and diverticula (outpouchings) in the colon. Too much fiber may result in loose stools, bloating, or even diarrhea.

Kenneth Brown, MD, gastroenterologist

Dietary fiber is the term used to describe the combination of both insoluble and soluble fibers. Soluble fiber is the form of fiber that dissolves in water. Examples of foods that contain soluble fiber include fruits, oats, legumes and barley. Insoluble fiber comes from plant cell walls and does not dissolve in water. Examples of foods that contain insoluble fiber include wheat, vegetables, and seeds. Fiber works by both bulking up the stool and retaining water.

In addition, bacteria help digest the fiber which produces healthy ingredients for the colon such as short chain fatty acids. Fiber can be beneficial for both diarrhea and constipation depending how much fluid is also taken in with the fiber. Fiber can actually become a constipating agent if the amount of fluid taken in is too low.

Lisa Ganjhu, DO, gastroenterologist

Fiber plays a major role in digestive health. Fiber is the fuel the colon cells use to keep them healthy. Fiber also helps to keep the digestive tract flowing, by keeping your bowel movements soft and regular.

It is possible to get too much fiber, and your body will know it. You may experience bloating and many more bowel movements than you are normally are used to.

Jo Ann Hattner, MPH, RD

Fibers are primarily non-digestible carbohydrates. Fibers are components of plant foods, fruits, vegetables, dried beans and peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds — any food that is classified as a plant. The fiber provides structure. Think of the celery stalk and the obvious vertical fiber strings that one often gets caught in their teeth. In addition, because fibers are non-digestible, they contribute to stool bulk and add form to the stool. People with irregularity are often advised to increase their fiber and fluid intake.

But can you get too much? Well yes, you can get too much of anything. But you will know when you do. When you eat too much fiber, your digestive system may be overwhelmed and you will suffer from abdominal bloating and pass excessive gas. You don’t want that, so keep an open mind and just eat as much fiber as you personally need to keep regular and enjoy a flat abdomen.

Another really important role of fiber is that some fibers are prebiotics — meaning they are fermented in the colon by the healthful beneficial bacteria. The products of this fermentation, which include short chained fatty acids, are thought to be healthful to the lining of the colon. In addition the acidic milieu that results from the fermentation is unfriendly to the survival of the pathogenic (harmful) bacteria which cause illness and may contribute to an unhealthy colonic environment. Expect more research findings on this subject.

Lisa Pichney, MD, gastroenterologist

Fiber is good for the gastrointestinal tract because it provides bulk to the stool, helping in colonic lubrication and transit. Too much fiber can result in unwanted gas production.

Seth Rosen, MD, gastroenterologist

A high-fiber diet can contribute greatly to gastrointestinal health as well as to a general healthy lifestyle. Fiber helps to regulate bowel movements so they are not too loose or too hard and may decrease the risk of diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Most high-fiber foods tend to be low in calories, sugar, and fat, so they are generally healthy. When eating high-fiber foods one may feel fuller and thereby less inclined to overeat.

Additionally, high-fiber diets are often part of a low-cholesterol, heart-healthy diet. While it is rare for most of us to exceed the recommended daily fiber intake, some people do have difficulty with gas and bloating when eating a large amount of fiber or introducing fiber too quickly into the diet. Also, keep in mind, eating fiber always requires adequate hydration and help to minimize the gas and bloating that may develop.

Sutha Sachar, MD, gastroenterologist

A diet high in fiber has repeatedly shown benefits in preventing colon cancer. Contrary to what many people think, soluble fiber can be used for treatment of diarrhea as well as constipation. The only drawback to eating “too much fiber” is that is can cause gas. This can usually be overcome by drinking plenty of water along with it.

Everyday Health Asks People on the Street What They Know About Fiber

Albert Snow, ND, holistic gastroenterologist

Contrary to conventional (mis)understanding, its role in assisting constipation is perhaps its least important. Its most important benefit is as a source of nutrition for the bacterial culture that makes up the mucosal lining, thus maintaining it. Subsequently the mucosal lining protects the gastrointestinal wall, which may prevent inflammatory diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and Crohn’s disease. A common cause of constipation is a magnesium deficiency. If you do not address that first, the fiber is likely to just back up on you.

Rule number one: If you have any kind of inflammatory bowel disease such as IBS, colitis, leaky gut, etc. do not take any kind of bowel cleanser or fiber supplement — you will definitely make you problem worse.

William Chey, MD, gastroenterologist

Fiber helps to regulate water content in the stool. If stool is too dry, fiber tends to retain fluid and soften stool. If stool is too runny, fiber can absorb water and add form to the stool. Taking additional fiber can also impact of blood cholesterol levels. The typical western diet contains fiber per day. To improve constipation-related symptoms, people should consume 20 to 25 grams of fiber per day. Eating too much fiber can lead to problems with cramping, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. When starting fiber, it is best to “start low and go slow.” Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet too quickly (days as opposed to weeks) can lead to the development of unwanted side effects.

Jacqueline Wolf, MD, gastroenterologist

Fiber is plant material that can’t be digested by the small intestine. Soluble fiber (can be dissolved in water) passes through the small intestine relatively unchanged until it reaches the colon (large intestine) where the bacteria can ferment or digest the fiber. The products of the fermentation stimulate the bowels, cause retained water in the stool and bulk up the stool. Insoluble fiber passes through the colon relatively unchanged and helps bulk the stool. A combination of soluble and insoluble fiber helps maintain normal intestinal function by affecting the consistency of the stool and affecting digestion of other substances.

Fiber may cause gas and bloating in some people and this may be a function of the amount or the type of fiber. In addition, in some people fiber may make the constipation or the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome worse. In a person with a narrowing in the intestine, for example from Crohn’s disease, insoluble fiber could make that person more at risk for a blockage of the bowel.

Benefits of Fiber

Dietary fiber – naturally found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes – is known for keeping us regular. However, fiber also provides many other benefits, such as helping to support the digestive system, maintaining immunity, and promoting overall well-being.* Making sure you get fiber in your diet is important for good health. But, in today’s busy world, even people who are making a conscientious effort to eat fruits, vegetables, and other fiber sources may still have trouble reaching their daily dietary fiber requirement.

Good for your digestive health and immune system.

Fiber, especially prebiotic fiber, is good for your digestive system because it feeds the good bacteria (called probiotics) that live in there. These good bacteria keep the bad bacteria in check, help balance your digestive system, support your immune system and help you avoid digestive problems, while maintaining the overall health of your digestive system.1* That’s an important role, so it makes sense to ensure that these good bacteria are well-fed so they can perform at their best.

Fiber Choice® chewable fiber supplements may help support your immune system.* Each Fiber Choice® tablet and gummy contains inulin, a fiber found in many fruits and vegetables. Fiber Choice, as a dietary supplement, is a convenient way to help the good bacteria in your digestive system to grow and thrive.*

Are you getting enough fiber?

The recommended daily fiber intake is 25 to 38 grams – about an ounce. But according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, most Americans only get about half that amount.2 Reaching your recommended daily fiber intake can be a challenge, but the inulin fiber in Fiber Choice® supplements makes that a lot easier. One serving of two chewable tablets or two gummies of Fiber Choice® equals four or three grams of fiber, respectively. So, up to three servings a day is a simple, convenient, and tasty way to help close the gap between the fiber you get from food and the fiber you need for overall good digestive health.

Do you consume enough fiber each day? If you are like most Americans, then you probably consume about 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day. Unfortunately, this is just not enough. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), we should actually be eating anywhere from 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day.

What exactly is fiber? Fiber is the element in plants (like fruits, vegetables and whole grains) that our bodies do not digest. Fiber is different from most foods that we eat in that, unlike most foods which are absorbed and digested, fiber is not absorbed or digested. It actually passes quickly through your digestive tract, mostly intact, and it is not broken down like other foods. The fact that fiber is mostly left intact is a good thing as it creates bulk which aids in moving stool and harmful carcinogens through the digestive tract. Without enough fiber in your diet, you will have irregularity, constipation, and sluggishness. Insufficient fiber can also increase your risk of colon cancer, as well as other serious health issues.

Because fiber helps to move stool through your digestive tract and colon, it actually helps to prevent colon cancer as it keeps your colon clean and healthy. Other health benefits of fiber include reducing the incidence of heart disease, lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose levels and inflammation, and even weight loss. Fiber can help with weight loss because it creates a fullness within your intestines that helps you to eat less.

There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Soluble fiber dissolves with water and creates a gel-like substance that helps to lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.” Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, “absorbs water which adds bulk to your digestive tract and helps to move things through quickly.”

Examples of soluble fiber include oats, oat bran, peas, rice bran, legumes/beans, apples, and citrus fruits. Examples of insoluble fiber include whole wheat flour, wheat bran, rye, cabbage, carrots, brussel sprouts and nuts.

What would a daily diet of 30 to 35 grams of fiber look like?

Breakfast: Three-quarters of a cup of bran flakes (5g of fiber)
Mid-morning snack: One cup of raspberries (8g of fiber)
Lunch or Dinner: One cup of lentils, split peas or black beans (15-16g of fiber); one cup of broccoli contains 5g of fiber

You do not need to eliminate other foods in order to have a fiber-rich diet, just learn how to incorporate fiber-rich food into your daily life! It is really that simple. When you think of all the health benefits, plus the added bonus that you may lose weight, why wouldn’t you incorporate these foods into your diet?

10 Amazing Health Benefits of Eating More Fiber

When do you think of fiber as exciting? Yeah, that would be never. But this research will help change your mind.

Eating more fiber delivers a slew of health benefits. Here are 10 health benefits of fiber to encourage you get your fill. Plus, here are 10 foods with more fiber than an apple to help you get your fill.

1. You’ll Lose Weight

Even if increasing your fiber intake is the only dietary change you make, you’ll shed pounds. Dieters who were told to get at least 30 grams of fiber a day, but given no other dietary parameters, lost a significant amount of weight, found a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In fact, they lost nearly as much as a group put on a much more complex diet that required limiting calories, fat, sugar and salt and upping fruit, veggie and whole-grain consumption. Fiber-rich foods not only fill you up faster and keep you satisfied longer, they also prevent your body from absorbing some of the calories in the foods you eat. “Fiber binds with fat and sugar molecules as they travel through your digestive tract, which reduces the number of calories you actually get,” explains Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., author of The F-Factor Diet. Another study found that people who doubled their fiber intake to the recommended amount knocked off between 90 and 130 calories from their daily intake-that’s equal to a 9- to 13-pound weight loss over the course of a year. Learn more about fiber and weight-loss and why you should be eating more of these seven high-fiber foods that can help you lose weight.

2. Maintain a Healthier Weight Over Time

Yep, it can also help you avoid putting pounds back on. People who got more fiber tended to be leaner overall-while those who were obese got an average of almost 1 gram a day less fiber than normal-weight participants, according to a study at the Medical University of South Carolina. And recent research at Georgia State University found that mice put on diets lacking in fiber-specifically soluble fiber-gained weight and had more body fat compared to those who weren’t deficient. What’s more, mice given adequate soluble fiber resisted fat gain-even when put on a high-fat diet.

3. Cut Your Type 2 Diabetes Risk

It’s a well-established fact. A recent analysis of 19 studies, for example, found that people who ate the most fiber-more than 26 grams a day-lowered their odds of the disease by 18 percent, compared to those who consumed the least (less than 19 grams daily). The researchers believe that it’s fiber’s one-two punch of keeping blood sugar levels steady and keeping you at a healthy weight that may help stave off the development of diabetes.

4. Lower Your Odds of Heart Disease

For every 7 grams of fiber eaten daily, your risk of heart disease drops by 9 percent found a review of 22 studies published in the BMJ. That’s partly due to fiber’s ability to sop up excess cholesterol in your system and ferry it out before it can clog your arteries.(Get more heart-healthy diet tips.)

5. Have Healthier Gut Bacteria

The good bugs that make up your microbiome feed off fiber-and flourish. As your gut bacteria gobble up fiber that has fermented in your G.I. tract (delish), they produce short-chain fatty acids that have a host of benefits-including lowering systemic inflammation, which has been linked to obesity and nearly every major chronic health problem. A recent Italian study found that eating a high-fiber Mediterranean diet was associated with higher levels of short-chain fatty acids. “And you can start to see the changes in gut bacteria within just a few days,” says Kelly Swanson, Ph.D., a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The catch: You’ve got to consistently get enough grams-ideally every day, if not most days of the week-to keep getting the benefits. Skimping on fiber shifts bacteria populations in a way that increases inflammation in the body. Check out these delicious whole-grain recipes to get your fiber fill.

6. Reduce Your Risk of Certain Cancers

Every 10 grams of fiber you eat is associated with a 10 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer and a 5 percent fall in breast cancer risk, says a study published in the Annals of Oncology. In addition to the anti-cancer effects of fiber, the foods that contain it-like veggies and fruits-are also rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that could further reduce your odds, notes Sheth. Read even more about your diet and cancer risk.

7. Live Longer, Period

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health recently found that people who often ate fiber-rich cereals and whole grains had a 19 and 17 percent, respectively, reduced risk of death-from any cause-compared to those who noshed on less fiber-heavy fare.

8. Be More, Well, Regular

Snicker all you like, but “constipation is one of the most common G.I. complaints in the United States,” says Zuckerbrot. And you don’t need us to tell you it’s no fun. Fiber makes your poop softer and bulkier-both of which speed its passage from your body.

9. Get an All-Natural Detox

Who needs a juice cleanse? Fiber naturally scrubs and promotes the elimination of toxins from your G.I. tract. Explains Zuckerbrot: “Soluble fiber soaks up potentially harmful compounds, such as excess estrogen and unhealthy fats, before they can be absorbed by the body.” And, she adds, because insoluble fiber makes things move along more quickly, it limits the amount of time that chemicals like BPA, mercury and pesticides stay in your system. The faster they go through you, the less chance they have to cause harm. (Don’t miss: Why you should skip the cleanse.)

10. Have Healthier Bones

Some types of soluble fiber-dubbed “prebiotics” and found in asparagus, leeks, soybeans, wheat and oats-have been shown to increase the bioavailability of minerals like calcium in the foods you eat, which may help maintain bone density.

More Fiber Stories & Recipes:

  • 6 High-Fiber Food Swaps to Make Right Now
  • Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber
  • High-Fiber Whole-Grain Recipes

March/April 2016

You’ve heard fiber is important, but why is fiber good for you? And how can you get enough fiber? Discover all the health benefits of this essential nutrient, the best high fiber foods, and an easy way to challenge yourself to get more fiber in your daily diet.

If you want to live a long, healthy life, fiber is a critical nutrient you need to be eating every day.

But fiber is often overlooked. And most people in developed countries aren’t getting nearly enough of it.

Could your diet be lacking fiber? Probably so.

In fact, only 3% of Americans get the recommended amount of fiber. Most Americans get about 10-15 grams of fiber per day — a number that falls far short of the 40 grams per day recommended by leading experts.

So why is fiber good for you? It aids your body in absorbing nutrients from food and eliminating toxins. It fills you up and helps you maintain more consistent energy levels. And it’s essential for healthy digestion, maintaining a healthy weight, preventing cancer and type 2 diabetes, and other proven health benefits.

Is Fiber the Real “Fountain of Youth”?

We hear a lot about the power of superfoods to extend our lives and keep us well. But it could be that fiber is better than all of them!

A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests how powerful fiber consumption is to human health. Researchers analyzed 17 studies, including nearly a million participants, and found that every 10 grams of fiber consumed per day cut mortality risk by 10 percent.

What Is Fiber, Exactly?

You’ve probably heard that you need to eat more fiber. But what is fiber?

Fiber is found in the cell walls of plants, where it provides structure and functions as sort of as a skeleton. It’s not digestible by humans, so it doesn’t provide nutrients or calories. But it’s critical to your health anyway.

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Each performs a different job in your body.

Soluble fiber helps lower blood glucose levels and cholesterol, and is found in foods, such as oatmeal, beans, and legumes, as well as in some fruits and vegetables.

Insoluble fiber acts like a broom, cleaning out your digestive tract, and is found in foods, such as whole grains, kidney beans, bran, and fruits and vegetables.

Both soluble and insoluble fiber are found naturally in plant foods. Meat, dairy products, eggs, and oils do not contain any fiber. And processed foods made with sugar or white flour generally contain very little fiber because any natural fiber is lost or removed.

Fiber is Necessary for Maintaining a Healthy Digestive System

Fiber is known for its ability to keep you regular and reduce constipation, but it has other benefits for maintaining healthy digestion as well.

For example, diverticulitis – inflammation of the intestine – is one of the most common age-related digestive disorders in the modern world.

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, consuming foods rich in insoluble fiber has been found to reduce the risk of diverticulitis by 40%!

Fiber is Essential for Maintaining a Healthy Weight

By increasing your fiber intake by only 14 grams per day, you can reduce your calorie intake by 10 percent, while increasing your sense of “fullness” and satisfaction.

Soluble fiber mixes with water in the gut to create a gel. This gel-like substance slows the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream while triggering stretch receptors in your stomach, telling you you’ve had enough. So, you feel full and satisfied by eating the same volume of food, even when that food has fewer calories.

Eating more fruit is a great way to get enough fiber in your diet.

Fiber Plays a Critical Role in Cancer Prevention

Fiber is an essential part of your waste removal system – constantly eliminating carcinogens before they become a problem. For instance, fiber works to prevent colorectal cancer by improving intestinal transit time – literally sweeping away carcinogens.

In a study at the National Cancer Institute called the Polyp Prevention Trial (PPT), published in the Journal of Nutrition, participants were put on a high-fiber diet with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Researchers focused on the recurrence of colorectal adenomas (polyps).

After adjusting for variables, it was found that the one food that made the most difference in whether or not participants had a recurrence of adenomas was the amount of beans they consumed. Many researchers believe this is because beans were the highest source of dietary fiber for most of the study participants.

But, fiber doesn’t just reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. It also reduces the risk of other forms of cancer as well, including cancers of the breast, prostate, mouth, and throat.

Every 10 grams of fiber you eat is associated with a 10 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer and a 5 percent fall in breast cancer risk, according to a study published in the Annals of Oncology.

Another study published in Pediatrics showed how women who consumed 28 grams per day of fiber had a 24 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer before menopause, compared with women who ate 14 grams per day.

The women who consumed the higher amount of dietary fiber also reduced their lifetime risk of developing breast cancer by 16 percent.

Fiber Is Good for Heart Health

Many cardiologists recommend eating oatmeal for breakfast. Their #1 reason? Oatmeal is full of soluble fiber.

Researchers don’t yet fully understand the mechanisms behind fiber’s LDL (“bad”) cholesterol-lowering power, but according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the soluble fiber from oats can decrease LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

In a review and meta-analysis of 22 different publications in the BMJ, greater dietary fiber was found to be associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease.

High-fiber foods may also have other benefits for heart health, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.

Fiber Helps Control Blood Sugar and Reduce Type 2 Diabetes

Fiber has a unique ability to help regulate blood sugar. This is one of the reasons dieticians recommend that people with diabetes consume beans and legumes. These high-fiber powerhouses help slow the absorption of glucose, while also regulating blood sugar over time.

In a recent study reported in Nutrition Journal, researchers tested the glycemic response of traditional beans and rice meals compared to rice alone.

Seventeen men and women who had diabetes were given either plain white rice or white rice with black beans, white rice with pinto beans or white rice with kidney beans. Then, researchers measured participants’ blood glucose at 90, 120 at 150 minutes. Compared with white rice eaters, all groups who ate beans with their rice had better blood sugar control, with pinto and black bean-eaters faring best of all.

So, whether you have diabetes, prediabetes, or just want to have more steady blood sugar throughout the day in order to feel better and have more energy, a low sugar, high fiber, plant-powered diet, with the addition of beans, may be able to help you feel your best.

Fiber Helps Detoxify Your Body

Fiber helps get rid of toxins from the body. Through a process called osmosis, fiber extracts liquid that contains toxins, and then the body expels these substances.

How to Get Enough Fiber in Your Diet Each Day

Now that you know the health benefits of getting enough fiber, here are some easy ways to add more fiber to your diet.

  • Replace beef with beans
  • Choose oatmeal with berries or sliced apple, instead of eggs or sugary cereal
  • Snack on fiber-rich foods, such as sliced apples with peanut butter or veggies and hummus
  • Skip meat, dairy, and processed foods like cookies, crackers, chips, and sodas
  • If you eat bread, choose whole grain brain, instead of white bread

Specific foods vary in their fiber content, but if you want to gauge how much fiber to eat, it can be helpful to estimate the number of grams of fiber in different food groups.

The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) offers this information in a handy chart.

Beans:
One serving = ½ cup 7 grams Soy:
One cup of soymilk or ½ cup tofu 1 gram Vegetables:
One Serving = 1 cup 4 grams
(lettuce is 2 grams) Fruit:
One serving = 1 medium piece of fruit 3 grams
1 cup of juice is one gram Grains:
Whole grains are higher in fiber than processed grains 1 gram in processed grains like white bread, white rice, processed cereal
2 grams in whole wheat bread and whole wheat pasta
3 grams in whole grain cereal and brown rice
4 grams in oatmeal
8 grams in bran Meat, Poultry and Fish 0 grams Eggs and Dairy 0 grams Soda 0 grams

To understand how much fiber you’re getting, here’s what you can do: Write down everything you ate and drank for one entire day and jot down your fiber score.

As you track your fiber intake, you’ll notice that if your diet is made primarily from whole plant foods and includes plenty of beans, you’re probably getting enough fiber.

However, if you’re eating meat, dairy, and processed foods — like white bread, cookies, crackers, chips, and soda, it can be challenging to achieve the goal of 40 grams of fiber per day.

How to Understand What Your Fiber Score Means

Less than 20 grams of fiber per day

Your score is pretty typical for most people in the industrialized world, but that’s not good.

Here’s why: People with a fiber intake this low are at an increased risk for obesity and food cravings, as well as constipation and other digestive issues. You’re also at an increased risk for certain chronic diseases, including heart disease and some forms of cancer.

But, the good news is, it’s easy to change all this by incorporating more fiber-rich foods into your diet!

20-39 grams of fiber per day

You’re doing better than a lot of people in developed countries, but you still have a way to go.

Focus on crowding out foods that contain no fiber by adding more fiber superstars, including beans. By doing this, you’ll find that you feel more satisfied, and maintain a healthy weight will become easier. You’ll further reduce your risk of chronic diseases as well.

40+ grams of fiber per day

Your diet is full of fiber-rich whole plant foods. You’re in the 3% of the population that is actually getting the recommended amount of fiber. Way to go!

Sample Fiber-Rich Meal Plan

What does high-fiber eating look like?

If most people eat only 10-15 grams of fiber per day, you may be thinking, how am I going to eat 40 or more grams of fiber per day?

It’s easier than you think. Here’s what a typical day might look like:

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with Cinnamon and Diced Apple: 4 grams for the oatmeal + 3 for the diced apple = 7 grams
  • Lunch: Spinach arugula salad topped with ½ avocado, beets, and chickpeas: 4 grams for spinach and arugula, 4 grams for avocado and beets and 7 grams for chickpeas = 15 grams
  • Snack: Veggies with Hummus: 4 grams for 1 cup veggies plus 3 1/2 grams for ¼ cup hummus = 7 ½ grams
  • Dinner: Lentil Mushroom Tacos; 7 grams for lentil-mushroom mixture, 4 grams for veggies on tacos, 2 grams for corn tortillas = 13 grams

Total Fiber: 42.5

What Are the Best High Fiber Foods?

Fiber is best found in its natural state and fiber is found only in whole plant foods.

So, it’s best to fill your plate with fiber-rich foods, such as:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beans and other Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds

Some people take fiber supplements, but they are likely of limited value as they are missing the nutritional co-factors, the beneficial vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that accompany the fiber in in whole plant foods.

Among whole plant foods, legumes are fiber superstars. To learn more about how to incorporate more beans into your diet, get all the benefits of beans, plus 12 recipes that will make you love them.

And this infographic from Care2 can help you choose high fiber foods, though it isn’t comprehensive:

Take Action for Your Health: Fiber Challenge

Now that you know your fiber score and better understand how to get enough fiber in your diet, team up with a friend or family member and challenge yourself and each other to reach 40 grams of fiber per day on a consistent basis.

If you’re new to eating a lot of fiber, it’s best to add fiber to your diet slowly because increasing your fiber intake too quickly can cause bloating and gas or other negative side effects. Also, it’s important to drink plenty of water while increasing your consumption of fiber-rich foods. When your body becomes used to the increase in fiber, you probably won’t experience any discomfort.

Now, hopefully, you can answer the question: Why is fiber is good for you? And you know how to get enough fiber in your diet.

Getting what you need of this critical nutrient is possible, especially as you follow a more whole foods, plant-based diet.

High-Fiber Foods

Fiber keeps you full, improves health, and aids weight loss. By using these tips to add more to your diet, you can look and feel your best.

Many of us associate fiber with digestive health and bodily functions we’d rather not think about. However, eating foods high in dietary fiber can do so much more than keep you regular. It can lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, improve the health of your skin, and help you lose weight. It may even help prevent colon cancer.

Fiber, also known as roughage, is the part of plant-based foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans) that the body can’t break down. It passes through the body undigested, keeping your digestive system clean and healthy, easing bowel movements, and flushing cholesterol and harmful carcinogens out of the body.

Fiber comes in two varieties: insoluble and soluble.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It is the bulky fiber that helps to prevent constipation, and is found in whole grains, wheat cereals, and vegetables such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps control blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol. Good sources include barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears.

Many foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. In general, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher it is in fiber. There is no fiber in meat, dairy, or sugar. Refined or “white” foods, such as white bread, white rice, and pastries, have had all or most of their fiber removed.

The health benefits of fiber

The latest figures show that nine out of ten Americans are not eating enough fiber; and people in other parts of the world are also falling well short. Part of the problem may be due to the association between fiber and bathroom habits. Yes, fiber offers a healthy and effective way to stay regular. But that’s not the only reason why we should be including more in our diets. Many different studies have highlighted how eating a diet high in fiber can boost your immune system and overall health, and improve how you look and feel. Some of the benefits include:

Digestive health. Let’s get this one out of the way first. Dietary fiber normalizes bowel movements by bulking up stools and making them easier to pass. This can help relieve and prevent both constipation and diarrhea. Eating plenty of fiber can also reduce your risk for diverticulitis (inflammation of the intestine), hemorrhoids, gallstones, kidney stones, and provide some relief for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Some studies have also indicated that a high-fiber diet may help to lower gastric acid and reduce your risk for gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) and ulcers.

Diabetes. A diet high in fiber—particularly insoluble fiber from cereals—can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. If you already have diabetes, eating soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar and improve your blood sugar levels.

Cancer. There is some research that suggests eating a high-fiber diet can help prevent colorectal cancer, although the evidence is not yet conclusive. Diets rich in high-fiber foods are also linked to a lower risk for other common digestive system cancers, including stomach, mouth, and pharynx.

Skin health. When yeast and fungus are excreted through the skin, they can trigger outbreaks or acne. Eating fiber, especially psyllium husk (a type of plant seed), can flush toxins out of your body, improving the health and appearance of your skin.

Heart health. Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, is an important element of any heart-healthy diet. Eating a diet high in fiber can improve cholesterol levels by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. A high fiber intake can also reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors linked to coronary heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Fiber can also help to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, and shed excess weight around the abdomen.

When we think about following a healthy diet, we often fixate on what we shouldn’t be eating, such as sugary desserts and fatty fried foods. A better strategy may be to focus on what we should be eating – especially more foods naturally rich in fiber.

Even though fiber passes through our bodies without being digested, it provides many health benefits, particularly for the heart. Fiber-rich diets may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 30%.

Source: Harvard Heart Letter, May 2019.

Fiber and weight loss

As well as aiding digestion and preventing constipation, fiber adds bulk to your diet, a key factor in both losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight. Adding bulk can help you feel full sooner. Since fiber stays in the stomach longer than other foods, that feeling of fullness will stay with you much longer, helping you to eat less. High-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables tend to be low in calories, so by adding fiber to your diet, it’s easier to cut calories. There are other ways that a high fiber intake can aid weight loss:

  • By regulating your blood sugar levels, fiber can help maintain your body’s fat-burning capacity and avoid insulin spikes that leave you feeling drained and craving unhealthy foods.
  • Eating plenty of fiber can move fat through your digestive system at a faster rate so that less of it can be absorbed.
  • When you fill up on high-fiber foods such as fruit, you’ll also have more energy for exercising.

By regulating your blood sugar levels, it can help maintain your body’s fat-burning capacity and avoid insulin spikes that leave you feeling drained and craving unhealthy foods. Eating plenty of fiber can also move fat through your digestive system at a faster rate so that less of it can be absorbed. And when you fill up on high-fiber foods such as fruit, you’ll also have more energy for exercising.

How Much Fiber Do You Need?
Minimum recommended daily intake (in grams)
Age Male Female
9-13 31 26
14-18 38 26
19-30 38 25
31-50 38 25
51-70 30 21
Over 70 30 21
Source: Food and Nutrition Information Center, USDA

Tips for adding fiber to your diet

Depending on your age and gender, nutrition experts recommend you eat at least 21 to 38 grams of fiber per day for optimal health. Research suggests that most of us aren’t eating half that amount.

While hitting your daily target may seem overwhelming at first, by filling up on whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains you can get the fiber you need to start reaping the health benefits.

Fiber from whole grains

Refined or processed foods are lower in fiber content, so try to make whole grains an integral part of your diet. There are many simple ways to add whole grains to your meals.

Start your day with fiber. Look for whole grain cereals to boost your fiber intake at breakfast. Simply switching your breakfast cereal from Corn Flakes to Bran Flakes can add an extra 6 grams of fiber to your diet; switching to All-Bran or Fiber-One will boost it even more. If those cereals aren’t to your liking, try adding a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.

Replace white rice, bread, and pasta with brown rice and whole grain products. Experiment with wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta, and bulgur. These alternatives are higher in fiber than their more mainstream counterparts—and you may find you love their tastes. Choose whole grain bread for toast and sandwiches.

Bulk up your baking. When baking at home, substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour, since whole-grain flour is heavier than white flour. In yeast breads, use a bit more yeast or let the dough rise longer. Try adding crushed bran cereal or unprocessed wheat bran to muffins, cakes, and cookies. Or add psyllium husk to gluten-free baked goods, such as breads, pizza dough, and pasta.

Add flaxseed. Flaxseeds are small brown seeds that are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your total blood cholesterol. You can grind the seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor and add to yogurt, applesauce, or breakfast cereals.

One advantage to eating whole grains is that you’re likely to use them to replace refined grains, such as white rice and white bread. The refining process not only strips away fiber but also removes up to 70% of many vitamins, minerals, and other healthful plant-based chemicals. Those compounds remain intact in whole-grain foods. Refined grains also tend to raise blood sugar and have other harmful metabolic effects.

Source: Harvard Heart Letter, May 2019.

Fiber from fruit and vegetables

Most fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, another good reason to include more in your daily diet. Here are some simple strategies that can help:

Add fruit to your breakfast. Berries are high in fiber, so try adding fresh blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or blackberries to your morning cereal or yoghurt

Keep fruit and vegetables at your fingertips. Wash and cut fruit and veggies and put them in your refrigerator for quick and healthy snacks. Choose recipes that feature these high-fiber ingredients, like veggie stir-fries or fruit salad.

Replace dessert with fruit. Eat a piece of fruit, such as a banana, apple, or pear, at the end of a meal instead of dessert. Top with cream or frozen yogurt for a delicious treat.

Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juice. You’ll get more fiber and consume fewer calories. An 8oz. glass of orange juice, for example, contains almost no fiber and about 110 calories, while one medium fresh orange contains about 3g of fiber and only 60 calories.

Eat the peel. Peeling can reduce the amount of fiber in fruits and vegetables, so eat the peel of fruits such as apples and pears.

Incorporate veggies into your cooking. Add pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces. For example, mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce or toss fresh baby carrots into stews.

Bulk up soups and salads. Liven up a dull salad by adding nuts, seeds, kidney beans, peas, or black beans. Artichokes are also very high in fiber and can be added to salads or eaten as a snack. Beans, peas, lentils, and rice make tasty high-fiber additions to soups and stews.

Don’t leave out the legumes. Add kidney beans, peas, or lentils to soups or black beans to a green salad.

Make snacks count. Fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables, and whole-grain crackers are all good ways to add fiber at snack time. A handful of nuts can also make a healthy, high-fiber snack.

Making the switch to a high-fiber diet

If you’re new to eating high-fiber foods, it’s best to start by gradually adding fiber to your diet and increasing your water intake. Fiber absorbs water so the more fiber you add to your diet, the more fluids you should drink.

Suddenly adding a large amount of fiber to your diet can sometimes cause side effects such as abdominal cramps, intestinal gas, bloating, or diarrhea. These should go away once your digestive system becomes used to the increase in fiber, but adding fiber gradually and drinking plenty of fluids can help avoid discomfort.

Good Sources of Fiber
Food Serving size Fiber

grams

Cereals
Fiber One 1/2 cup 14
All-Bran 1/2 cup 10
Bran Flakes 1 cup 7
Shredded Wheat 1 cup 6
Oatmeal (cooked) 1 cup 4
Vegetables
Spinach (cooked) 1 cup 4
Broccoli 1/2 cup 3
Carrots 1 medium 2
Brussels sprouts 1/2 cup 2
Green beans 1/2 cup 2
Baked goods
Whole-wheat bread 1 slice 3
Bran muffin 1 2
Rye bread 1 slice 2
Rice cakes 2 1
Legumes (cooked)
Lentils 1/2 cup 8
Kidney beans 1/2 cup 6
Lima beans 1/2 cup 6
Baked beans (canned)** 1/2 cup 5
Green peas 1/2 cup 4
Grains (cooked)
Barley 1 cup 9
Wheat bran, dry 1/4 cup 6
Spaghetti, whole wheat 1 cup 4
Brown rice 1 cup 4
Bulger 1/2 cup 4
Fruit
Pear (with skin) 1 medium 6
Apple (with skin) 1 medium 4
Strawberries (fresh) 1 cup 4
Banana 1 medium 3
Orange 1 medium 3
Dried fruit
Prunes 6 12
Apricots 5 halves 2
Raisins 1/4 cup 2
Dates 3 2
Plums 3 2
Nuts and seeds
Peanuts, dry roasted* 1/4 cup 3
Walnuts 1/4 cup 2
Popcorn* 1 cup 1
Peanuts* 10 1
Filberts, raw 10 1
* Choose no-salt or low-salt version of these foods,

* *Choose low-sugar version of these foods

Fiber in fast food

Fast food is often cheap and convenient, but finding a healthy meal with enough fiber can be a challenge. Many fast food meals are packed with calories, sodium, and unhealthy fat with little or no dietary fiber. Even a seemingly healthy salad from a fast food restaurant is often light on fiber—simple lettuce greens provide only about 0.5 grams of fiber per cup. Look for salads that include other vegetables, and whenever possible, up the fiber content by adding your own nuts, beans, or corn.

Other tips for getting more fiber from meals at fast food restaurants:

  • Choose sandwiches, burgers, or subs that come on a whole wheat bun or whole grain bread.
  • Try a veggie burger. Many taste much better than they used to and contain two or three times more fiber than a meat burger.
  • Select a side of beans for a healthy fiber boost.
  • Choose nuts or a salad over fries or potato chips.
  • Combining a baked potato and a side of chili, available at some burger chains, can make a tasty, high-fiber meal.
  • Several chains offer oatmeal bowls for breakfast, a higher fiber choice than most breakfast sandwiches. Try to choose lower sugar versions if possible.
  • Finish a fast food meal with a fruit cup, fruit and yogurt parfait, apple slices, or a piece of fresh fruit.

Fiber supplements

While the best way to get fiber in your diet is from foods naturally rich in fiber—fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts—when that proves difficult, taking a fiber supplement can help make up the shortfall. Supplements can also be useful to top up your daily fiber intake while you transition to a high-fiber diet.

Fiber supplements come in a variety of forms, including powders you dissolve in water or add to food, chewable tablets, and wafers. However, there are some drawbacks to getting your fiber from supplements instead of fiber-rich foods:

  • Fiber supplements won’t provide the same vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients offered by high-fiber foods.
  • Supplements won’t fill you up or help you manage your weight.
  • Fiber supplements can interact with some medications, including certain antidepressants, cholesterol-lowering medications, and the anticoagulation drug warfarin. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about potential drug interactions before taking a fiber supplement.
  • If you have diabetes, fiber supplements may also reduce your blood sugar levels so, again, check with your healthcare provider before adding supplements to your diet.

If you decide to take a fiber supplement, start with small amounts and gradually build up to avoid any abdominal bloating and gas, and drink plenty of fluids.

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