In the world of wellness and nutrition, fiber is the unsung hero. It may not command the same attention as fad diets or trendy superfoods, yet its pivotal role in your well-being cannot be overstated. It’s the friend who’s always got your back, working behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly (yes, we mean your digestion).
Do you know if you’re getting enough fiber in your daily routine? And why is it so important to eat a fiber-rich diet? We’ll answer these questions, plus give you some tips for upping your fiber game. Let’s dive in and explore how fiber can become your next wellness wingwoman.
What is Fiber?
Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, is the part of plant foods that your body can’t digest. Instead of being broken down and absorbed by your body, it passes through your stomach, small intestine, colon, and out of your body, relatively intact.
Fiber is usually classified into two different categories:
- Soluble fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel-like material. Found in foods like oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, and carrots, soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. This is because it mixes with digested food, and consequently slows down the absorption of sugar into the blood.
- Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It’s found in foods like whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes. Insoluble fiber speeds up the passage of food through the digestive system and increases stool bulk, thus helping you fight constipation or irregular stools.
Most plant-based foods contain both types of fiber, but the amounts of each vary in different foods.
Benefits of Getting Enough Fiber
A high-fiber diet comes with a whole host of health benefits. Some of the fiber benefits include:
- Decreases your risk heart disease and cancer. An analysis of nearly 250 studies confirmed that eating lots of fiber from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can decrease your risk of dying from heart disease and cancer by 16 to 24%. Plus, the analysis concluded that more fiber is better–for each additional 8 grams of fiber a person consumed, the risk of contracting these diseases fell by another 5 to 27%.
- Helps you live longer. Research has shown that a high dietary fiber intake is associated with a decreased risk of death from any cause. Compared to those eating the least amount of fiber, those eating the highest amount of fiber reduced their risk of dying by 23% . One caveat: the association found between fiber intake and reduced risk of dying was most evident for fiber from cereals and vegetables, rather than fruit.
- Normalizes bowel movements and supports bowel health. Fiber can help give your stool a better consistency, on either end of the spectrum. For those suffering from constipation, eating more fiber can offer relief by making your stools softer. And if you have looser stools, fiber can add bulk to give them shape and form. A high-fiber diet may also lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids, as well as diverticular disease (when small pouches form in your colon).
- Lowers cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber in particular, found in foods like beans, oats, and flaxseed, may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol levels.
- Supports weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight. High-fiber foods are generally more filling than low fiber foods. So while fiber doesn’t have any inherent properties supportive of weight loss, incorporating more high fiber foods into your diet could leave you feeling satisfied for longer and eating less. One study of over 74,000 American women found that weight gain was inversely associated with the intake of high-fiber, whole-grain foods.
- Helps control blood sugar levels. Because the body is unable to absorb and break down fiber, it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar the way other carbohydrates can. In fact, it actually slows down the absorption of sugar into your blood, which can help keep your blood sugar in your target range. Some studies suggest consuming high amounts of fiber, especially cereal fiber, can also reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
How Much Fiber You Need
To get all the amazing health benefits of fiber, just how much of it do you need to eat every day? The answer varies according to age, sex, and individual circumstances.
“Women should aim for at least 25-30 grams of fiber daily,” says Valerie Agyeman, R.D, dietitian and host of women’s health podcast, Flourish Heights. “Some may need more or less depending on their individual health needs.”
Specifically, the USDA recommends different amounts of daily fiber for women of different ages. In their Dietary Guidelines for Americans, they suggest the following amounts of fiber per day:
- Women aged 19-30: 28 grams
- Women aged 31-50: 25 grams
- Women aged 51+: 22 grams
Americans eat only an average of 16.2 grams of fiber per day, falling short of these recommendations. There’s a good chance you don’t know how much fiber you’re consuming most days, which is why in the next section we’ll cover how to develop a fiber-rich diet.
How to Get More Fiber
To get more of this nutritional powerhouse into your daily routine, you’ll want to incorporate lots of foods that are high in fiber into your meals and snacks. Luckily, there are plenty of delicious foods with fiber for you to choose from.
“Add a variety of fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts to your diet for optimal health and well-being,” says Agyeman.
What can this look like in practice? Agyeman suggests you “start your day with fiber by opting for whole-grain options like whole wheat bread, oatmeal, or whole-grain cereal for breakfast.”
And when it comes to snacks, Agyeman says to try “nuts and seeds like almonds, chia seeds, and flax seeds which are all great sources of fiber. Incorporate them into your snacks or sprinkle them over yogurt or salads.”
Remember, the key is variety. Don’t get stuck in a fiber rut; mix things up to keep your taste buds happy and your body nourished. Simple tweaks can make a big difference!
Can You Eat Too Much Fiber?
We know that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, so is there such a thing as eating too much fiber? The answer is yes, at least when you’re in the beginning stages of adjusting your diet.
“Eating too much fiber may lead to digestive discomfort like bloating, gas, and abdominal cramps in some people,” Agyeman says. “It’s important to gradually increase fiber intake to allow the digestive system to adjust.”
Also, make sure to drink plenty of water, as fiber works best when it absorbs water.
Enjoy your fiber-rich foods!
In the quest for a healthier and more vibrant life, don’t underestimate the transformative power of fiber. And remember that embracing a fiber-rich lifestyle is not about drastic overhauls but making simple, sustainable changes. Whether it’s choosing whole grains over refined or indulging in a rainbow of fruits and veggies, each fiber-infused choice contributes to your well-being and your body will thank you!