By Alex Aldeborgh, MS, RDN (@daisybeet)
Did you know that 95% of Americans don’t eat the recommended amount of dietary fiber? Fiber is an important nutrient with several health benefits. In order to experience the health benefits of fiber, women should consume 25 grams of fiber a day, and men should consume 38 grams of fiber a day (1).
What is fiber?
Fiber is a carbohydrate found in plants that humans cannot digest. While other carbohydrates break down into sugar molecules to be used as energy, fiber passes through the human body undigested and intact.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both kinds are important, as they both play a role in our overall health.
- Soluble fiber forms a gel-like material when eaten. Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels (2). Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, peas, beans, barley, and apples.
- Insoluble fiber supports regular bowel movements by drawing water to the gut, and softening and providing bulk to stools. Good sources of insoluble fiber include nuts, cauliflower, and wheat bran.
Food sources of fiber
Fiber is found in a wide variety of plant foods. You can boost your fiber intake by eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Here’s a selection of fiber-containing foods, and the amount of fiber in a serving:
- Apples: 4-5 grams in 1 medium apple
- RXBAR protein bar: 5 grams in 1 bar
- Oats: 4 grams in 1 cup (cooked)
- Dates: 7 grams in 3.5 oz
- Quinoa: 5 grams in 1 cup (cooked)
- Peanuts: 2.7 grams in 1 oz
- Broccoli: 2.5 grams in 1 cup
- Black beans: 7.7 grams in ½ cup
- Raspberries: 4 grams in ½ cup (3)
Benefits of a high fiber diet
Diets high in fiber provide several important health benefits. Here are some of the benefits of a high fiber diet:
- Promotes bowel regularity. Fiber, especially insoluble fiber, helps keep us “regular” by adding bulk to and softening our stools. A high fiber diet also helps treat and prevent constipation (4). It’s important to note that when increasing fiber intake, you must also drink adequate fluids to prevent impaction.
- Weight management. Fiber has long been touted as a tool for weight management, and for good reason. Fiber-rich foods are generally lower in calories than other food groups, but they also help fill us up by providing bulk and slowing down digestion time.
- Fosters a healthy gut microbiome. Fiber is quite important for gut health. While we’ve only brushed the surface on the importance of gut health, one thing we DO know is that our gut microbiota feeds on fiber. The trillions of microbes (aka probiotics) that live in our guts rely on fermentable dietary fiber as their source of energy. They are able to digest the fiber in foods that our own digestive systems cannot. A high fiber diet promotes probiotic health, diversity, and abundance, which in turn allows us to reap the benefits of a healthy gut (5).
- Lowers cholesterol and controls blood glucose levels. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance, which has a binding nature when we eat it. It’s been shown to bind to the “bad” LDL cholesterol in our blood, and may also improve other lipid markers (2). When we eat fiber, it helps slow the absorption of sugar into the blood. Some research shows that in people with Type 2 diabetes, soluble fiber can reduce HbA1C, insulin resistance, and fasting blood glucose (6).
- Reduces risk of certain chronic diseases. Since fiber-rich foods include lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, these foods also supply us with important vitamins and minerals. So, not only do we reap the health benefits of fiber, but also the benefits that come with eating plant foods. One of the most important benefits of a diet high in fiber is reduced risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, breast cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and diverticular disease (7,8,9,10).
Tips to add more fiber to your diet
Ready to eat more fiber? Great! Here are some simple tips to help you add more fiber to your diet, so you can reap the many benefits.
- Start your day with oats. A bowl of oatmeal packs a fiber punch, and you can add even more fiber with your toppings. Try almonds, raspberries, chia seeds, or sliced banana. Make your own oatmeal or keep it simple and quick with RXBAR A.M. Oats. Each cup has 6 grams of fiber!
- Fill half your plate with fiber filled vegetables. When building a balanced meal, fill up half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, asparagus, or Brussels sprouts. Non-starchy veggies provide filling fiber and tons of other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Blend it up. Smoothies have tons of potential to boost fiber intake. Some high fiber smoothie ingredients to consider include blueberries, banana, kale, spinach, hemp seeds, and RXBAR Nut Butter.
- Snack smart. It’s easy to sneak in 5 or 10 extra grams of fiber into your daily diet by optimizing your snacks! An ideal snack contains both fiber and protein, because the combination of nutrients keeps us full and satisfied. Some ideas include: sliced apple with RXBAR Nut Butter, hummus and whole wheat pita bread, Greek yogurt with mixed berries, and your favorite RXBAR flavor.
When increasing your fiber intake, it’s best to do it gradually to avoid digestive discomfort like bloating. Try adding an additional 3-5 grams a day from your favorite fiber-rich foods over the course of a few weeks. It’s also important to get adequate fluids when eating a high fiber diet to aid with its passage through the digestive tract. How are you going to add more fiber to your diet today?