You’ve heard it before: You need to eat more fiber. Whether you heard it from your doctor or your mother, they’re probably right. The average American isn’t getting enough fiber. After all, fiber is usually found in whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, which you won’t find in fast food menus and most prepackaged foods.
But you can improve your health and your diet by knowing how fiber benefits your body, how much you need to eat, and how you can get more into your daily meals and snacks.
Fiber is found in plant foods. In most plants, there’s some part of the plant your body can’t digest or absorb. This is called dietary fiber. Because fiber isn’t digested by your body, it passes through your digestive system and out your body relatively “whole.” Most plant foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, but forms a gel-like substance. It’s effective in helping lower your cholesterol and glucose levels. On the other hand, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. Because insoluble fiber is bulky, it helps move your food through your digestive track. Which helps with constipation or irregular stools. For the greatest health benefits, you should aim to eat a variety of high-fiber foods that include both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Benefits of eating more fiber
Sure, you’ve been told to eat more fiber. It’s healthy, after all. But do you know the benefits of including enough fiber in your diet on a daily basis? Here are the benefits of a diet rich in fiber:
- Fiber keeps you regular. If you’ve experienced problems with constipation or irregular (watery) stools, adding more fiber to your diet can help bulk up your stool. Whether your stools are coming out too easily, or not at all, fiber can help.
- Fiber helps keep your bowels healthy. Eating more fiber may help reduce your risk of developing hemorrhoids and may even prevent colorectal cancer.
- Fiber can protect against breast cancer. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found a significantly lower breast cancer risk for women who had a higher intake of fiber during adolescence and early adulthood.
- Fiber lowers your cholesterol. Soluble fiber can help to lower your cholesterol levels, mainly your “bad” cholesterol levels. Fiber can also help your heart health and improve your blood pressure.
- Fiber helps you stay full longer. When you eat whole foods that contain good amounts of fiber, you’ll feel satisfied for longer. Which means you’ll eat less in the long run and still feel full. Plus, calorie for calorie, you’ll be eating less when you fill up on whole foods like fresh produce or whole grains than if you fill up on other foods. This means when you start including more fiber into your diet, you might also see the numbers on the scale go down.
- Fiber helps to control your blood sugar levels. This is good news if you’re a diabetic. Soluble fiber slows the absorption of sugar. Eating adequate amounts of fiber can also help you reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
How much fiber do you need?
You’re committed to eating more fiber. But how much do you need? The American Diabetic Association recommends healthy adult women eat at least 25 grams of fiber daily and healthy adult men at least 38 grams. Unfortunately, if you’re anything like the average American, you’re only getting about 15 grams of fiber daily, which leaves room for improvement.
Tips for eating more fiber
Eating more fiber doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, you just need to be more aware of your dietary intake and concentrate on eating more whole foods. Try these tips:
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Chose whole-grain options whenever possible. Swap out white breads for whole-grain breads, white rice for brown rice, and whole-grain flours for white flours in your baking.
- Eat more legumes. Add beans, lentils, or peas to your favorite meals to add a little extra flavor and a lot of fiber.
- Choose high-fiber breakfast items. Breakfast is an easy way to add more fiber to your day. Just opt for high-fiber breakfast cereals, oatmeal, or whole grain toast instead of your usual sugary cereal or white bagel.
- Include fiber in every snack. Fresh fruits and vegetables or whole-grain crackers make a fast and easy snack.
- Drink water. Fiber works best with water, so stay hydrated for the best results.
- Add more fiber slowly into your diet. Adding a lot of fiber to your diet too quickly can cause gas, bloating, and stomach cramps. Instead, increase your fiber intake slowly over a few weeks.
A note about fiber supplements
Eating more fiber can be challenging, so you might be tempted to keep eating your regular diet and just add a fiber supplement. Supplements are quick and easy; you can use them daily with little planning, and no matter how well you eat you may still need a fiber supplement to combat digestive issues. But whenever possible, try to get your dietary fiber through fresh, whole foods. A fiber supplement doesn’t contain all the nutrients whole foods do. Which means you’ll be missing out on some amazing health benefits if you only take a supplement.