Fiber does a lot for your health. If you are skipping this key nutrient, then you are missing out on a lot of potential health benefits. People that eat more fibrous foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lentils are statistically healthier. And, the impact is not just on the digestive tract. Sure, it can relieve constipation. It also helps with a digestive tract condition called diverticulosis. But, beyond the gastrointestinal tract, it affects cancer risk, immunity, and helps stabilize blood and cholesterol levels. And, it even helps with weight loss. As fiber rich foods are a key source of phytochemicals and anti-oxidants, they are important in fighting inflammation in the body. With so many health benefits, let’s check out how much we need and how to get enough. Once you know how much to eat and where to find it, you can reap the health benefits.
Requirements vary by gender and age. Adult women up to 50 years of age need 25 grams. After 50 years of age, requirements decrease to 21 grams. Adult men up to 50 years of age need 38 grams. After 50 years of age, requirements decrease to 30 grams. And, what about eating more than the requirement? You should be aware that excessive fiber intake beyond these recommendations may actually be harmful for some. Too much dietary fiber limits absorption of: iron, zinc, and calcium.
Impact on health
Fiber help moves your food through your digestive tract by softening the stool. Some types of fiber swell (soluble) when exposed to water. In the digestive tract, this causes your bowel movements to soften, easing the constipation. Other types of fiber that are coarser (insoluble) will stimulate the colon to make mucous and water, which also enlarges and softens the stool.
Fibrous foods are a source of prebiotics for your gut bacteria. Prebiotics are essentially the food or fuel for gut bacteria. It’s important to feed your gut bacteria because a healthy balance of bacteria has the potential to have a huge impact on your overall health. While researchers have known for some time that the mix of gut bacteria can affect our digestion and immunity, it’s becoming apparent that there’s more to it. In fact, gut bacteria may affect metabolism, heart disease, and even mood.
If you have this condition, then you have pouches known as diverticula that balloon out from the colon wall (see photo below). This should not be confused with diverticulitis, which is the same pouches that are inflamed or infected.
When you eat enough fiber, it pushes on the muscular colon from the inside out. The pushing outwards of the colon wall will eliminate or shrink the pouches, and reduce the diverticulosis. As the pouches lessen or decrease in size, there is less likelihood of inflammation or infection occurring. And, random food particles from corn, nuts, and seeds will not readily lodge themselves in the colon as these pouches shrink. Think of the fibrous foods as free weights for your colon! The colon is a muscle, and the fiber will work it and push it outward.
Cancer and fiber
There is a decrease in colon cancer risk as dietary fiber consumption increases. Fibrous foods may protect against certain cancers by binding, diluting, or removing cancer causing agents from the body. As fiber speeds up the time it takes food to move through the digestive tract, cancer causing agents that might be in our food are removed more quickly from the body. This decreases the amount of time a cancer causing agent is in contact with the body, and reduces cancer risk. Alternatively, the abundant phytochemicals found in fibrous foods may be protective from cancer. These phytochemicals may also decrease inflammation, which is thought to be the root of all diseases and even the aging process.
It’s well known that fiber can affect blood sugar levels and have a positive impact on diabetes management. When low fiber foods are eaten, blood sugar levels rise rapidly. When high fiber foods are eaten, blood sugar levels rise much slower. For instance, eating a piece of low fiber white bread would cause a sharper spike in blood sugar than eating a slice of high fiber whole grain bread.
Fiber can almost act like a sponge when it comes to blood cholesterol levels. It can bind to cholesterol and bile acids, which are made from cholesterol. By binding to both, they are removed from the body in your poop! This makes the body resort to using the cholesterol from the blood to make more bile acids. In doing so, blood cholesterol levels are automatically lowered as they are used up to produce more bile.
Who doesn’t want to lose weight and feel full? That’s what fiber helps with. The actual fiber in food passes through your digestive tract and is excreted. It contains no calories. The calories in fibrous foods, such as apples, come only from the natural carbohydrates in the apple. But, that calorie free fiber does make one feel full. And, remember, blood sugar levels will stay elevated for a longer time period. Hunger kicks in when blood sugar levels drop, so by keeping your blood sugar elevated for a longer time period you’ll feel less hungry. Less hunger can mean better weight control!
How to get enough fiber with fruits and vegetables (3 or more grams per serving)
- raspberries, 1 cup has 8
- 1/2 cup cooked lentils have 8
- blackberries, 1 cup has 7.6
- black beans, 1/2 cup has 7
- pear, one medium whole has 6
- garbanzo beans, 1/2 cup have 6
- 3 oz. of avocado have 5.7
- baked beans, 1/2 cup has 5.5
- 1 apple, medium whole has 5
- hummus, 2 Tbsp. have 3.7
- blueberries, 1 cup has 3.6
- carrots, 1 cup chopped has 3.6
- banana, medium has 3
- celery, 3 stalks have 3
How to get enough fiber with whole grains (3 or more grams per serving)
- Awake High Fiber Bran Buds, 1/2 cup has 17
- Kashi Golean Cereal, 1.2 cup has 13
- All Bran, 1/2 cup has 12
- Ezekiel Cereal, 1/2 cup has 6
- Shredded Wheat, 1 cup has 5
- Flax Plus, 0.8 cup has 5
- Natural Ovens, Everything Bagel, 1 Bagel has 5
- Orowheat High Fiber bread, 1 slice has 5
- Natural Ovens, Whole Grain bread, 1 slice has 4
- Oatmeal, 1 cup has 4
- Barley, cooked, 1/2 cup has 3
- Wild Rice, cooked, 1 cup has 3
- Cheerios, 1 cup has 3
How to get enough fiber from a breakfast bar (3 or more grams per bar)
These products do not have the nutritional quality of the above list, but they can be used to fill in as needed. If you are going to indulge in a breakfast bar or snack bar, I always say get some important nutrients while indulging. I’ve even used some of the sweeter bars as a dessert!
- Quest Bar has 17
- Fiber Love Bar has 12
- Fiber Plus Protein Bar, Kellogg’s has 7
- Cliff Luna Bar Peanut Butter Strawberry has 7
- Isagenix Fiber Snack Bar has 6
- Meleluca Bar has 6
- Fiber One Bars, all varieties have 5
- Fiber Now Bar, Millville has 5
- Advocare Bar has 5
- Meta Health Bar has 4
- Special K Fiber Bar has 3
Easy ways to improve your fiber intake
Consider focusing on a plant based diet. Emphasizing more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will automatically improve your fiber intake. Keep in mind there is absolutely no fiber in meat or pure fat (sorry keto diet fans). Use lentils on salad and in soups. Mix vegetables into noodle dishes. Add grains like oats into recipes such as meatloaf. And, consider making your own smoothies.
Adjusting to increased fiber
Go slowly when you start adding fiber to your diet. It can take some time for your gut to adjust and you may feel gassy at first. If a particular food seems to cause a lot of gas, move on to another food with fiber. All foods will not cause the same amount of gas in all people. You need to experiment to find the best foods for your gut. Lastly, be sure that as you increase your fiber you also increase your fluid intake at the same time. This will keep your food moving nicely through your digestive tract!
Take away messages
Skipping this key nutrient will have a negative impact on your health. For gut health, it reduces constipation and diverticulosis. It also feeds your gut bacteria which can impact your overall health. It’s able to help regulate both your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. And, for many, it’s a perfect tool for weight loss. The fiber helps fill you up, providing that full feeling to help manage your appetite.
Anyone have any great high fiber recipes to share? I’d love to add to this post.