Fiber is the magic nutrient in your diet that does more to keep you healthy than you think. The most surprising part is that you can’t really digest it!
Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate that is found primarily in plant foods. Unlike other carbs (which usually have 4 calories per gram), fiber doesn’t provide any calories as it moves through your body.1 But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good for you.
Most people should eat 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories daily.1,2 This means if you eat a 2,000 calorie diet you should be getting at least 28 grams of fiber. Most Americans are not even meeting half of that.2
How to eat more fiber
Fiber comes from plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds and whole grains. The amount of fiber in each food depends on how it’s eaten. Cooking, blending, mashing and removing peels can reduce the amount of fiber. This doesn’t mean that you have to only eat raw foods that have peels, but keep this in mind as you pick your snacks and meals.
There are two different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Each type is helpful to your body in its own way, so having a mix of both is best.
Soluble fiber turns into a gel when it mixes with water in your digestive tract.2,3 You can find it in fruits like berries and apples, beans, oatmeal and barley.
Insoluble fiber is what most people think of as “roughage.” Instead of becoming a gel, it attracts water and keeps your digestive system moving.2,3 This type of fiber is found in vegetables (especially the peels), nuts and whole grains.
Getting enough fiber can help you maintain a healthy weight, prevent constipation and control your blood sugars and cholesterol. If you’re adding more fiber to your diet, try to do it slowly and add more fluids at the same time to prevent feeling bloated.
Fiber helps slow down digestion, this also slows the breakdown of other carbohydrates and causes blood sugars to go up and down smoothly.2,3 Soluble fiber also soaks up excess cholesterol in the digestive system and moves it out of the body.
Keeping things moving
If you’re trying to lose weight, fiber can help you reach your goals. Fiber does not add calories but still helps keep you full for longer. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your meal that makes you feel satisfied. Soluble fiber forms a gel that helps food move slowly through your body after you eat.2,3
When you have constipation or diarrhea, both types of fiber are helpful.3 Fiber adds substance to your stool, making it easier to move if you’re constipated. If diarrhea is the problem, fiber can make bowel movements solid by absorbing excess water.
Dietary fiber is so important and most of us are not eating enough of it. Build your diet around unprocessed whole foods and lots of plants to help prevent some chronic diseases and improve your well-being!
- Nancy D. Turner, Joanne R. Lupton, Dietary Fiber, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 2, Issue 2, 01 March 2011, Pages 151–152, https://doi.org/10.3945/an.110.000281
- James W Anderson, Pat Baird, Richard H Davis, Jr, Stefanie Ferreri, Mary Knudtson, Ashraf Koraym, Valerie Waters, Christine L Williams, Health benefits of dietary fiber, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 67, Issue 4, 1 April 2009, Pages 188–205, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x
- “Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Jan. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983