It’s a new year and like many, you might be trying to kick off the year on a healthy start. More exercise. Less dessert. Maybe cutting back on the alcohol after too many holiday cocktails. But did you know that increasing your fiber intake is another big step you can take to improve your health? In this article I will explain what fiber is and why it’s so important. I will also share five amazing health benefits of fiber and some easy tips to get more fiber into your diet.
What is Fiber?
In contrast to protein, fat and carbohydrates, fiber is not absorbed by the body. Instead, it travels through the digestive system, feeding the good gut bacteria and helping to remove toxic waste. In fact, there are actually two types of dietary fiber, both of which are equally important: soluble and insoluble fiber.
During the digestive process, soluble fiber absorbs water, creating a gel-like consistency. On the other hand, insoluble fiber passes through the digestive system virtually unchanged. In combination, insoluble fiber creates volume in the intestines and soluble fiber, with its gel-like consistency, promotes proper elimination.
How Much Fiber Do I Need?
The truth is many of us are not getting enough fiber. The recommended daily dose is about 38 grams for males and 25 grams for females. However, unless you specifically track your fiber intake, it’s easy to miss the suggested daily dosage. The good news is that fiber is naturally occurring in nearly all plant-based foods, including….
What Types of Food Contain Fiber?
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains are all good sources of fiber. Plant foods contain different proportions of soluble and insoluble fiber. Therefore, it’s important to eat a variety of plant foods to ensure you get a good balance of soluble and insoluble.
Some of the top sources of soluble fiber include avocado, artichokes, pears, split peas, chia seeds, flaxseeds and apples. Some of the best sources of insoluble fiber include grains, such as wheat bran (omit if gluten free), oats and quinoa, lentils, legumes and berries.
Five Amazing Health Benefits of Fiber
After all this talk about fiber, you’re probably still wondering “why do I need it?” While the health benefits of fiber are numerous, here are five of my favorite benefits that will have you reaching for an apple after this article.
- Fiber Helps Eliminate Waste & Toxins
This is probably the most well-known benefit of fiber. But, if you are interested in improving your gut health, removing waste and toxins is an essential step in building a healthy microbiome.
Imagine you want to have a clean house so you spend all day making the beds, doing laundry, cleaning the floors. But, you never take out the trash. You just let it accumulate in large piles around the house. If this were the case, no matter how hard you try to clean the rooms around the house, your home will always be dirty (and smelly) due to the build up of trash.
Let this be a lesson on the importance of proper elimination. You can spend all the time and effort feeding your gut with healthy foods, feeding the intestinal lining and taking all the right supplements, but if you have a sluggish digestive system, your body will never be operating at its best. For that reason, increase your fiber intake so you can increase the elimination of waste and toxins.
2. Fiber Feeds the Good Gut Bacteria
You’ve probably heard of probiotics, but have you heard of prebiotics? In short, prebiotics fuel the good gut bacteria that already exists in the gut, as opposed to probiotics which introduce new gut bacteria (interested in learning more? check out my article here).
Fiber acts as a prebiotic. The preexisting bacteria that live in the gut feed on fiber as it passes through the digestive system. This in turns promotes a healthy microbiome. And a healthy microbiome is essential to fortifying the intentional lining, preventing diseases such as leaky gut and treating symptoms of IBS and other auto-immune related conditions.
3. Fiber Helps Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
Nobody likes the rise, and subsequent crash, experienced after eating too many carbohydrates or sugar. To combat these swings, increase your intake of fiber, which in turn will slow the absorption of sugar. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is helpful to maintaining healthy hormone levels, in addition to managing diabetes and other blood sugar related conditions.
4. Fiber Keeps you Feeling Fuller Longer
Another benefit of stable blood sugar levels is that you are less likely to feel hungry or experience cravings. In fact, feeling hungry shortly after eating could be a sign that you are not getting enough fiber.
5. Fiber Reduces Bad Cholesterol
As noted above, soluble fiber creates a gel-like consistency as it travels through the digestive system. As it does so, it simultaneously picks up bad (LDL) cholesterol and carries it out of the body. However, it leaves the good (HDL) cholesterol behind. So, if you are prone to high cholesterol, or simply looking for ways to improve your health, increase your intake of soluble fiber and watch as your cholesterol levels improve.
Tips to Incorporate more Fiber into your Diet
With so many high fiber foods to choose from, it’s a wonder so many of us suffer to reach our daily recommended dose. Unfortunately, we live in a world that values convenience (myself included!), and grab-and-go, processed foods often contain little to no fiber.
In the spirit of keeping things quick and easy, here are a few easy ways to incorporate more fiber into your diet:
- Enjoy oatmeal topped with berries for breakfast;
- Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed or chia seeds to your smoothie or baked goods;
- Snack on an apple with nut butter, or veggies with hummus for a double dose of fiber rich foods;
- Swap quinoa for rice to pump up the fiber power of your favorite recipes;
- Embrace lentils and legumes! These make the perfect addition to a soup or salad, or can be enjoyed on their own for a burst of protein and fiber.
If you take one thing away from this article, I hope it’s that you will pay closer attention to the amount of fiber you are consuming. Personally, I thought because I ate a predominately healthy diet, there was no way I wasn’t getting enough fiber. As it turns out, when I started tracking just how much I was consuming, I was under the recommended daily dose. Getting more fiber is easy and delicious! It might just require a little tracking at first.
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