Updated: Aug 3, 2021
By Braeden Yacobucci, RDN/RD, LD
Let’s talk about fiber.
What on earth is fiber anyways? Isn’t it that thing that makes you have to go number two more often? Well, sort of. But it does so much more in your body than just that. I want to get down to the nitty gritty of fiber and why it is SO important to eat a diet rich in fiber. In this article, we are going to talk about what fiber is, why you need it, how much you need, and sources of fiber to fit into your diet once I’ve got you excited to eat more of it. So here we go.
Fiber as a whole is basically the parts of plant foods that your body is not able to digest and absorb. Chemically speaking, humans do not possess the enzyme required to break the bonds that hold fiber together. If we can’t break the bonds, then we can’t digest it and absorb it into our bodies. This may sound like a bad thing, but I assure you it has many benefits. There are two kinds of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. You may be able to guess the difference between them from the names. Soluble fiber can be dissolved in our bodies, creating a gel-like structure. However, do not confuse “dissolve” with “digest”, they are two different things. Insoluble fiber on the other hand is not able to be dissolved in our bodies and passes through our digestive tract. Both types of fiber have their benefits but let’s talk about the overall benefits of fiber.
1. Fiber helps to lower cholesterol levels.
We’ve all been told that cholesterol is the “big, bad wolf” in our bodies that is going to cause major problems for us one day. But did you know that your body produces its own cholesterol? That’s right. Your intestines and liver produce about 80% of the cholesterol in your body. The other 20% comes from your diet. But there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the good stuff, and you can guess that your body wants to produce the good cholesterol. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) if the bad stuff. This type of cholesterol comes from foods high in saturated fats and trans-fat. Luckily, trans fats are virtually extinct in today’s foods because they are so terrible and evil. Saturated fats on the other hand are quite common. Having excessive amounts of LDL in your body is what leads to health issues. Fiber is the superhero that fights LDL though. As fiber runs through your body, it attaches to LDL in the bloodstream and exits the body with it. This in turn lowers the overall LDL levels in your body and promotes production of HDL which is a fundamental building block of cell membranes (which you can imagine are pretty important as there are about 37.2 trillion cells in our bodies).
2. Fiber improves overall bowel health and aids in reducing constipation.
As fiber moves through you, it is very good at absorbing water. This is beneficial in creating healthy stool, which is way more important than you may think. If your stool is watery and loose, fiber helps to solidify the stool by absorbing water and adding more bulk to the stool. Like I said before, a lot of fiber remains intact as it passes through the digestive tract and maintains its size which basically creates healthier stool. In terms of constipation, fiber helps to pass stool through the digestive tract while also helping to prevent future constipation due to the consistent stool levels.
3. Fiber helps you eat less.
What the heck does that even mean? Well, high-fiber foods tend to be more filling than foods with low fiber. This means that you will eat less because you will be full quicker. High-fiber foods also keep you satisfied for longer periods of time, so you won’t be craving your next snack soon after you finish a high-fiber meal. High-fiber foods also contain less “energy” (or calories) than normal foods. You can eat the same volume of food while consuming less calories and still feeling satisfied. Usually, high-fiber foods also tend to take longer to eat which aids in digestion. Eating at a slower rate is much healthier for digestion than eating at a fast rate.
Now that we’ve discussed why we need fiber, let’s talk about current fiber levels in today’s society.
The daily recommendations for fiber for adults are as follows:
Age 50 or younger – 38 grams per day
Age 51 or greater – 30 grams per day
Age 50 or younger – 25 grams per day
Age 51 or greater – 21 grams per day
Currently, the average American receives around 15 grams of fiber per day. That is basically half of the recommended intake! The problem is that most of us do not consciously think about including fiber in our diet and if we do, we do not know what the best sources of fiber are. This could be one reason why 40% of Americans have high cholesterol levels. Here are some great sources of fiber to hopefully get you above 15 grams a day (these are in no particular order, just 5 high-fiber foods):
1. Chia Seeds – 10.6 grams of fiber per ounce
Chia seeds are tiny black seeds that you can literally throw in anything. And they are so tiny that you most likely won’t even notice them in your food. An easy way to add some fiber to your diet.
2. Oats – 16.5 grams of fiber per cup
Oats are another simple food to include in a plethora of dishes. From oatmeal to smoothies, oats are a very versatile whole grain that provide a large amount of fiber for your diet. Personally, I like to throw some peanut butter and fruit in my oatmeal and it’s a great way to start my day. 3. Lentils – 15.6 grams of fiber per cup
Lentils are one of the greatest superfoods on the planet (we will dive into other superfoods in another article). Along with fiber, these babies pack in tons of important nutrients that your body needs. They are similar to beans and can be thrown into a plethora of dishes.
4. Avocado – 10 grams of fiber per cup
Along with being an amazing source of healthy fats, this fruit also packs a good amount of fiber. Eat it right out of the shell with a spoon and some salt or throw it on your salad. Any way you eat it, avocados are a great source of fiber and healthy fat to incorporate into your diet.
5. Raspberries – 8 grams of fiber per cup
These delicious little red fruits can be thrown in smoothies, salads, or on top of meats for a fruity contrast. Along with fiber, these berries are also packed with vitamin C and manganese.
To summarize, fiber is an essential part of the human diet found in almost all plants. We are not able to digest fiber, but this is a beneficial trait. It aids in the health of your digestive tract and prevents constipation. The average American does not receive nearly enough fiber in their diet, but we discussed multiple plants that can help to increase fiber intake. So, I challenge you this week to keep fiber in the forefront of your mind as you sit down for your meals. Whatever your age or gender, try your hardest to reach the recommended dietary intake for fiber and pay attention to your body’s response. Do you feel better? Worse? Do you feel more satisfied after meals for a longer period of time? However, be sure to not consume too much fiber, as it may result in bloating, cramping, or additional gas production. Lastly, be sure to drink plenty of water! Fiber works best when it has water to absorb in your body. Thank you for reading, and as always…stay curious my friends.