When it comes to healthy eating, one critical nutrient we don’t think about nearly enough is fiber. Fiber is crucial for good digestive health, it’s key for weight loss, it helps regulate cholesterol, and can reduce your risk for a slew of diseases from diabetes to cancer and heart disease. Despite all these incredible health benefits, only about 7% of Americans get enough fiber in their diets, according to recent studies. To learn more about fiber, why it’s important, and how to get more of it, read on.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is technically a carbohydrate. Sometimes known as roughage, fiber is indigestible plant matter. Instead of being broken down into sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream, fiber passes through the body undigested. That’s why you may find bits of nuts, seeds, or vegetables in your stool.
What Role does Fiber Play?
Most people know that fiber is good for digestion. Because fiber itself is indigestible, it passes through the intestines and cleans out bacteria, fats, sugars, or hard-to-digest foods on its way out. Fiber also adds bulk to your stool, ensuring you’re more regular and clearing out constipation.
But fiber’s benefits go far beyond the bathroom. The healthy bacteria in your gut love fiber, and the more you eat of it, the healthier your gut biome will be. In addition, fiber also soaks up excess cholesterol, which decreases your risk for heart disease. Other studies have linked fiber to lower risks of cancer, diabetes, and other dangerous diseases.
If you’re trying to lose weight, fiber is a valuable tool. Soluble fiber in particular is key for weight loss because it dissolves in water and forms a viscous gel in the stomach which makes you feel fuller and more satisfied for longer. Fiber also helps absorb calories from other foods, as fat and sugar molecules move through the digestive tract, some will bind to fiber, reducing your caloric intake.
How Much Fiber Do You Need?
The USDA recommends 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams for men daily. For reference, a single apple has around 4.4 grams of fiber and a slice of whole wheat bread has about 2 grams. Most studies show that the average American consumes a little less than half of the recommended amount of fiber daily, and only about 7% reach their recommendations. This disparity is troubling and shows the need to reprioritize fiber in our diets.
How to Get Enough Fiber into My Diet?
Fiber is abundant in whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and particularly beans and legumes. Critically, fiber is not found in meat, cheese, eggs, or other dairy products. Most fruits and vegetables have anywhere between 1 and 6 grams of fiber per cup. But the best source of fiber comes from beans and legumes, a cup of cooked black beans has about 15 grams, almost half the daily amount recommended for men and over half for women, while a cup of cooked lentils has 15.5!
To get enough fiber, have oatmeal or granola along with some fresh fruit for breakfast. Switch out your white bread, white pasta, and white rice for whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice. Eat the peels and skins on all your fruits and veggies, as those are often higher in fiber. For snacks, have some dried fruit, sunflower seeds, almonds, or unbuttered popcorn. For meals, try switching out some meat or dairy for black beans, chickpeas, or lentils. Since fiber is found mostly in whole, plant-based foods, if you strive to eat lots of fiber, you’ll likely be enjoying many of the other health benefits that come with eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
-Jared Kent, Chef Zero Doubt Club