Fiber is a nutrient that many people often overlook as a healthy part of their diet. It has numerous benefits that help manage chronic disease and even prevent the development of other comorbidities. If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you are not getting enough fiber in your diet as many Americans lack adequate fiber intake in their day-to-day life.
Fiber is the unsung hero of nutrition. It is a carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by the body, which is sometimes why you see parts of undigested food in your stool. Fiber is mostly found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber works like a sponge in the gut; when it is digested it dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance that helps absorb some of the excess water in our GI tract. This can help prevent watery, uncomfortable bowel movements. Soluble fiber also binds to cholesterol to excrete it in your stools, which decreases your risk of heart disease. A Harvard study found that a high fiber diet decreased the risk of coronary artery disease by 40%. Some sources of soluble fiber include oats, barley, beans, apples, pears, and sweet potatoes.
Conversely, insoluble fiber pulls water into your gut and can help soften stools and increase transit time. Think of insoluble fiber as a scrub brush that bulldozes through your gut and cleans up all the bad muck. For those with constipation, consuming a diet high in insoluble fiber is recommended since it can promote bowel regularity and support gut health. Insoluble fiber is also beneficial for glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, which can decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes and help manage your blood sugar if you are diabetic. Sources of insoluble fiber include whole-wheat flour, nuts, seeds, fruits, and veggies.
The recommended daily intake of fiber is 21 grams to 25 grams per day for women and 30 grams to 38 grams per day for men. As mentioned above, many Americans lack adequate fiber in their daily intake. Some ways you can increase fiber in your diet include:
• Consume whole grains instead of refined grains. Try swapping brown rice for white rice and choose whole wheat bread and pasta. The whole wheat versions of these grains contain the bran, which is loaded with fiber!
• Eat a salad a day. It is recommended to consume 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, not only for the nutritious vitamins and minerals but also for the abundant amount of fiber. A salad can help you meet these goals.
• Add fiber to baked goods. Get creative. Instead of using regular flour, try something new and grab the whole wheat flour! Try adding oats or flaxseed to muffins, cookies, and smoothies. When researching recipes, see if there is a high fiber version or swap available.
• Utilize snack time. Snacks are a great opportunity to increase your fiber intake. You can snack on fruits and vegetables, but if you’re looking for something sweet, try grabbing a bar loaded with fiber from nuts, seeds, etc.
Fiber is useful for increasing your satiety at mealtime, reducing your risk of diabetes, regulating your bowels, and decreasing your risk for heart disease, but sometimes it comes with a price. Fiber can cause GI distress since it can be rather aggressive on the GI tract. If you are currently following a low fiber diet, increase your fiber intake slowly. I would recommend using a meal tracking app and increasing your fiber intake by 2-3 grams per week. Side effects of increased fiber include flatulence, abdominal pain, and bloating.
If you have additional questions about fiber recommendations, want creative ways to increase fiber in your diet, or are interested in meeting with me for a 1-on-1 Registered Dietitian session, please reach out to the Merritt Clubs Nutrition & Wellness Department.
Tessa Mirjafary is Merritt Clubs' Registered Dietitian. If you would like to schedule a session with Tessa, one of our Health Coaches, or would like additional information about our Wellness programs, please reach out to Sherri Lively at firstname.lastname@example.org.