When it comes to eating fiber many of us are falling short. Not only does fiber play an important role in digestion, but it also helps to balance blood sugar, normalize bowel movements, and has even been shown to help lower cholesterol levels and support overall health. Fortunately, getting more fiber into your diet is not as complicated as it may seem, it just takes a little planning. So, here is everything that you need to know about fiber and some simple tips on how to eat more fiber.
What is fiber?
Fiber is a form of complex carbohydrate and is the non-digestible polysaccharide found in plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds, and can be categorized by two different types; soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance as it goes through the digestive tract. It is for this reason that it helps to slow down digestion and has been shown to help balance blood sugar levels as it slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Soluble fiber is found in plant pectin and gums such as legumes, oats, barley, and quinoa; vegetables such as artichoke, squash, broccoli, and carrots; and fruits such as apples, pears, berries, and bananas.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and, therefore, passes through the digestive tract relatively untouched. For this reason, insoluble fiber helps to add bulk to the stool, prevent constipation and regulate bowel movements. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables.
It is important to understand that there is a lot of overlap between soluble and insoluble fiber, and many fiber-rich foods contain a combination of both forms.
What are the benefits of eating fiber?
Dietary fiber has many important functions for our overall health. Dietary fiber helps to promote regular bowel movements given it provides bulk to our stool and helps to soften our stool allowing it to pass through the gastrointestinal tract more easily. Fiber-rich foods also promote gut health as fiber encourages the “good” bacteria in our digestive tract which are integral for overall health. Moreover, because fiber helps to slow digestion and the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, it has been shown to help control blood sugar levels and help to lower cholesterol. High-fiber diets have also been shown to help regulate weight and appetite by keeping people fuller for longer periods of time.
How much fiber should you eat?
According to Health Canada, it is recommended that women should consume 25 grams of fiber per day and men should consume 38 grams of fiber per day, however, most Canadians only get half of their recommended intake. Since most fiber-containing foods contain a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber, it is not necessary to be specific about the exact type of fiber you are consuming, rather, focusing on overall fiber intake is the best way to ensure that you are eating enough.
What foods are highest in fiber?
As previously mentioned, fiber can be found in a wide range of plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Per serving, the foods highest in fiber include:
- Fruits: Raspberries, pears, apples with skin, bananas, oranges, and strawberries.
- Vegetables: Green peas, broccoli, turnip greens, Brussels sprouts, potatoes with skin, corn, cauliflower, and carrots.
- Whole Grains: Barley, bran, oats, oat bran, and brown rice.
- Beans, Lentils, Nuts & Seeds: Split peas, lentils, black beans, chia seeds, almonds, pistachios, and sunflower seeds.
Tips to Eat More Fiber
So, how do we eat more fiber? Here are 8 simple, yet effective, ways to help ensure that you reach your recommended daily fiber intake.
1. Eat More Vegetables
Although most people know they are good for them, many people still fail to eat vegetables on a regular basis. Because all vegetables contain fiber, eating more vegetables can quickly increase your daily fiber intake without much effort. Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower are low in calories, high in fiber, rich in nutrients, and can help keep you full for longer periods of time. Not only is eating vegetables at every meal ideal but eating them first can help to ensure that you don’t fill up on other things before you get the chance to eat them.
2. Opt for Whole Grains over Grain Products
As a general guideline, to eat more fiber it is best to focus on whole grains in their whole format as opposed to products made out of them. Eating whole grains helps to ensure that you are eating all parts of the grain, including the fiber-rich bran. On the contrary, refined grains and refined grain products are a poor source of fiber given they have been stripped of their vitamin-containing germ and fiber-rich hull. So, instead of reaching for pastries, baked goods, and granola bars, opt for whole grains such as oats, barley, and rice whenever possible.
3. Start at Breakfast
Instead of waiting until snack time to eat your fruit and lunchtime to eat your veggies, focus on adding more fiber to your meals first thing in the morning. By simply adding fruit to your oatmeal, veggies to your eggs, and nuts or seeds to your yogurt you can help to boost your overall fiber intake before you even start your day.
4. Eat More Beans and Lentils
Not only are beans and lentils a rich source of fiber, but they are a great source of plant-based protein that you can include in meals. Although not everyone is accustomed to cooking with beans and lentils, they are very easy to cook with and are an important part of many traditional diets. Replacing meat with chickpeas, black beans, or lentils in a few meals per week (or adding them to meat-based meals!) is a great way to boost fiber, protein, vitamin, and mineral intake at the same time.
5. Snack on Nuts and Seeds
Not only are nuts and seeds a rich source of healthy fats and protein, but they are versatile foods that are easy to transport making them great for snacks. Although all nuts and seeds contain some fiber, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and pecans are particularly high in fiber and great for snacking. However, because they are high in fat, they are a rich source of calories so a small handful goes a long way.
6. Reach for Whole Fruit instead of Juice
Although fruit is a rich source of fiber, fruit juice is not. Given that juices are pressed, leaving only a concentration of carbohydrates, specifically in the form of sugar, they are not a good source of fiber. Although fresh fruit and vegetable juices may contain vitamins and minerals, they are stripped of any fiber and therefore do not provide the same health benefits as whole fruits and vegetables. So, instead of reaching for juice, opt for fruits and vegetables in their whole format.
7. Leave the Skin On
In many cases, the dietary fiber found in fruits and vegetables is found in their skin. In fact, foods such as apples, potatoes, and cucumbers contain little to no fiber without their skin. So, if the skin on a fruit or vegetable is edible do your best to consume it as it will help to increase your overall fiber intake.
8. Reach for Whole Foods
Since fiber is a form of complex carbohydrate found in whole foods, reaching for whole foods is imperative to increasing your overall fiber intake. Although processed foods do come fortified with added fiber and there are many fiber supplements available, they do not have the same benefit of fiber in their natural format. So, instead of reaching for potions and powder to eat more fiber, do your best to reach for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds regularly as opposed to using fortified foods or supplements.
The Bottom Line
The key to eating more fiber is actually quite simple; focus on whole foods. Simply include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds in your diet regularly to help reach your recommended daily fiber intake and support optimal health.