Are high-fiber foods going to be the new protein bars?
Many are predicting an impending fiber takeover of the nutrition world, and with good reason:
The average American gets barely half of the recommended daily fiber intake!
The reason that needs to change? Fiber has been shown to naturally improve so many areas of your overall health. From weight loss and heart disease prevention to blood sugar control and better digestive health, the amount of fiber you eat is just as important as your macros for protein and healthy fats.
We’ve got all the most important fiber info for you below, including its health benefits and 25 of the best high-fiber foods to add to your diet starting today.
What Is Fiber and Why Is It Important?
Fiber comes from plants. Vegetables, fruits, and foods with whole grains all contain dietary fiber or the kind you can eat (1).
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber. Your body needs both types of fiber for optimal digestive health because they work differently.
Soluble fiber sources are slow-digesting. As it moves through your system, soluble fiber breaks down, attracts water, and becomes a gel-like consistency. This allows the fiber to easily pass through your digestive tract (3). Examples of soluble fiber include nuts, seeds, oats, beans, lentils, and certain fruits and veggies.
Insoluble fiber does not get digested and instead works to bulk up your stool. This speeds up how quickly food moves through your digestive tract. Insoluble fiber sources include whole grains such as bulgur, vegetables like green peas, and wheat bran (3). This combination of fiber not only keeps your digestive system in good working order, but it also keeps it moving regularly, which is useful for combating and even avoiding constipation (2).
Why Aren’t Most People Getting Enough Fiber?
The current recommendations for daily fiber intake are 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men (if you’re between the ages of 19-50) (7). However, current estimates show many Americans are only getting about 15 grams of fiber each day. There are several reasons for this:
First, many people don’t eat enough fruits and veggies even though these are fiber powerhouses. Instead, they turn to high-carb foods like pizza, white bread, and white rice. While these foods may fill you up, they don’t deliver the same health benefits of fiber-rich foods. Switching to whole-grain bread or brown rice will replace some of those carbs with beneficial fiber content (as will adding more fruits and veggies to your meals).
Another problem is the popularity of low-carb, high-fat, and high-protein diets. On these, people often eliminate many fruits, veggies, and whole grains from their diets, due to a fear of eating any carbs (1). But if you’re not careful, this decrease also ushers in a drastic cut in dietary fiber. (This is also one reason many people on low-carb diets experience chronic constipation!)
People on these types of diets must take extra steps to ensure the carbs they eat contain higher amounts of fiber. The good news? The more fiber a food contains, the lower the net carbs. So you can easily fix your low fiber intake without adding too many carbs to your diet.
Why Is Fiber So Important To Overall Health?
Fiber has been shown to combat many of the most pressing chronic conditions and diseases faced by people all over the world. And most of those, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, start with trouble maintaining a healthy weight.
Fiber helps add bulk to your diet so you feel satisfied sooner and eat less (2). That’s why researchers believe a high-fiber diet may help prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and colon cancer (4).
But fiber isn’t just ideal for losing weight and lessening metabolic syndrome. It also supports your gut health and has been shown to help treat diverticulitis, among other perks (2).
The Top 4 Health Benefits of Fiber
The research and scientific evidence show a diet packed with high-fiber foods may be able to:
1. Reduce Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
When people get enough fiber, they can lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels and decrease their risk of developing coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease (4). This is because fiber reduces LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, also known as “bad” cholesterol levels, without touching the “good” cholesterol known as HDL, or high-density lipoprotein.
Trials also demonstrate fiber’s ability to help reduce C-reactive protein levels. Lowering this marker of inflammation and blood pressure can both contribute to keeping your heart healthy and at low risk for disease (4).
Additional research is needed to prove these findings further, but the results seem promising so far.
2. Better Blood Sugar Management and Type 2 Diabetes Prevention
In a study conducted on 75,000 people over 14 years, scientists discovered people consuming at least 15g of fiber per day significantly reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes (4). They also learned participants consuming more than 17g of insoluble fiber had the lowest risk of diabetes (4).
Additionally, researchers from a review of 16 meta-analyses found that the cereal fiber found in brown rice, barley, and seeds provides the greatest reduction in risk (5). A small decrease in fasting blood sugar levels was also discovered in type 2 diabetics who upped their fiber intake in another study (5).
3. Improved Digestion
Since insoluble fiber adds weight to your stools, and soluble fiber makes them softer and easier to pass, fiber fights constipation and ensures your digestion moves along as it should — not too fast or too slow (4).
It also decreases the transit time so you can eliminate waste regularly instead of every few days (4).
Research shows that wheat bran, which is packed with insoluble fiber, is the “gold standard” when it comes to increasing stool size (4). This can also reduce your risk of obesity, colorectal cancer, and diverticular disease (6).
4. Appetite Suppression and Weight Control
Results from a 20-month study showed participants decreased their body fat by almost half a pound for every one gram increase in fiber they ate each day (5). This may be because fiber fills you up and suppresses your desire to snack on extra calories.
After reviewing over 50 studies on fiber and weight control, scientists concluded that people who increased their fiber intake by 14 grams per day were able to decrease their calories naturally, which led to an average weight loss of 4.4 pounds in four months (5).
How do you up your fiber intake by 14 grams per day? You fill your diet with the best fiber-rich foods.
How To Add 25 High-Fiber Foods To Your Diet The Right Way
Women should get 25g of fiber per day; men should aim for 38g per day (7). What’s the best way to hit those targets?
Good sources of fiber fall into three specific categories: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. As long as you weave a few foods from each category into your meals and healthy snacks, you’ll be a step closer to meeting your fiber goals with each bite.
Here’s a list of the 25 best high-fiber foods (7):
- Brussels sprouts
- String beans
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
- Split peas and lentils
- Prunes and other dried fruits
- Berries (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries)
- Nuts (pistachios, almonds, and walnuts)
- Seeds (chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds)
- Beans (black beans, lima beans, kidney beans, and garbanzo beans/chickpeas)
- Whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, and whole-grain foods like muffins
Fiber Pro Tips and Troubleshooting: Read This Before You Load Up
Very important! If you’re currently only getting about 10g of fiber per day, instantly jumping to 25g might upset your system. It’s best to start slow at first as your body adjusts.
Eating too much fiber at once can lead to uncomfortable gas and bloating. Worse, all that fiber could quickly pass right through you. To avoid this, slowly add a bit more fiber each day, rather than loading up all at once.
You’ll also want to drink more water than usual (7). Without enough water, you may end up constipated, the exact opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish (7). Some people, especially those with digestive troubles, find that blended smoothies and soups may be an easier way to add more fiber to their diet without causing digestive upsets.
Finally, try to choose organic options whenever possible, especially when it comes to fruits and veggies. It’s also best to leave the skin on foods like apples and sweet potatoes since that’s where you’ll find most of the fiber. Always give these outer layers a good scrub.
What About Fiber Supplements?
With busy, on-the-go lifestyles, many people struggle to eat enough fruits and vegetables to meet their fiber intake each day. While it’s better to get your fiber straight from whole food sources, Dr. Michael Picco of the Mayo Clinic says it’s safe to supplement with psyllium and methylcellulose if you’re not getting enough from whole food sources (8).
However, there are downsides to using fiber supplements. They can decrease the absorption of medications like aspirin and they may lead to a decrease in blood sugar too. It’s best to speak with your doctor if you’re considering a fiber supplement (8).
Similar to increasing your intake of whole-food fiber sources too quickly, these supplements may cause bloating or gas initially. You should start slowly and gradually increase your intake with your doctor’s approval.
Final Thoughts on High-Fiber Foods
There are plenty of good reasons to hit your fiber goal each day. Instead of overwhelming your system with double the source of fiber you’re used to, take baby steps and work your way up the fiber ladder. If you normally have one piece of fruit each day, boost your serving to two pieces. Enjoy these servings separately so you don’t overload your system or spike your blood sugar.
You could also snack on a serving of nuts or seeds instead of chips or candy. And consider replacing your normal low-fiber veggies with high-fiber ones at mealtimes.
Fiber used to be an overlooked component of your macros. But now that people are realizing how awesome it really is, the fiber craze seems ready to explode. And you’ll be leading the pack.