The Health Benefits of Fiber and How to Easily Add It to Your Diet
Updated: May 7, 2020
We all know that we should eat more fiber. Maybe you've heard it from your doctor because you have high cholesterol, diabetes or constipation. The recommended amount of daily fiber for women is 25 g and 38 g for men, but many of us don't get enough.
If your doctor has recommended that you eat more fiber or you're just trying to increase your intake read on to learn more about fiber, what it does for our health, and great sources of fiber that you can easily incorporate into your diet.
Soluble vs. insoluble fiber
Soluble and insoluble fiber are two categories of fiber and they do different things for our health. They are classified based on whether they are able to dissolve in water. Soluble fiber mixes with water in our digestive system, forming a gel-type substance that makes stools softer and easier to pass. Insoluble fiber is not broken down by digestion and adds bulk to stools.
Many fiber-rich foods contain both insoluble and soluble fiber. Some of the foods with the highest fiber include beans, lentils, whole grains, avocados, pears, figs, oats and other vegetables.
Many of us don't reach the recommended daily amount so here are some foods that you can incorporate into your diet to help you reach that daily goal.
20 high-fiber foods
black beans: 1 cup = 15 g
Brussel's sprouts: 1 cup = 3.3 g
avocado: 1 avocado = 9 g
sweet potato: 1 potato = 4.8 g
broccoli: 1 cup = 2.4 g
pears: 1 pear = 4.3 g
kidney beans: 1 cup = 11 g
figs: 3-5 figs = 5 g
nectarines: 1 nectarine = 2.4 g
10.oats: 1 cup cooked = 4 g
11. split peas: 1/2 cup = 8.1 g
lentils: 1/2 cup = 7.8 g
whole wheat bread: 2 slices = 4.4 g
raspberries: 1/2 cup = 4.0 g
dried dates: 1/2 cup = 3.8 g
almonds: 1 oz = 3.3 g
apple with skin: 1 apple = 3.3 g
orange: 1 orange = 2.3 g
artichoke: 1 whole = 6.5 g
green peas: 1/2 cup cooked = 4.4 g
Tips to easily get more fiber into your diet
eat the skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables
opt for fruit instead of fruit juice
eat fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds as snacks instead of less nutrient dense snacks like crackers, chips or sweets
include vegetables in all meals including breakfast. Eat them in a scramble or smoothie for breakfast. Add beans or seeds to salads for lunch and increase the natural sweetness of vegetables by roasting them as an easy side dish for dinner.
pick whole grains when choosing bread, muffins, or rice
eat beans or lentils more often instead of meat
make dips out of chickpeas or lentils such as hummus
put avocado on toast for breakfast, use it as a spread for sandwiches, and chop it up and put it in salads
5 Health benefits of fiber
Beneficial for gut bacteria - although our digestive enzymes can't break down fiber, some gut bacteria can, and this provides additional nutrients for our absorption. The fermentation process also provides necessary nutrition for the gut bacteria and our intestinal cells.
Lowers blood sugar and cholesterol - fiber has been found to reduce blood sugar levels after eating by slowing digestion and reducing the absorption of glucose, triglycerides and cholesterol. Insoluble fiber also improves insulin sensitivity, making it more likely that sugar will be taken into the cells and not remain in the bloodstream.
Promotes satiety and weight loss - when soluble fiber mixes with water it forms a gel-like substance that expands and makes you feel full. This prevents overeating and snacking that can result in weight gain. Fiber also changes the dominant gut microbes to species that promote less weight gain. Studies have found that a calorie-restricted diet along with a soluble fiber supplement called glucomannan may help to aid in weight loss in obese individuals when used for 5-6 weeks.
Prevents diverticulosis and colon cancer - insoluble fiber promotes regular bowel movements by bulking up stools. Having regular bowel movements means you're less likely to develop small pockets or diverticuli in the colon. When these pockets become inflamed it results in a condition known as diverticulitis. Regular bowel movements also reduce the amount of time waste is present in the colon, which reduces the amount of time cancer-promoting carcinogens come into contact with the gut wall.
Aids healthy elimination and prevents hemorrhoids - insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools so you stay regular. Hemorrhoids are formed when there is a lot of straining involved so eating enough fiber can prevent them from forming in the first place.
If you don't regularly consume fiber in your diet start low and slowly work your way up because adding too much at once can cause uncomfortable bloating and constipation. Also remember to drink plenty of water to aid elimination.
The recommended daily fiber intake is 25 g for women and 38 g for men. Many fiber-rich foods include both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance when combined with water and insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool. Some high fiber foods include beans, whole grains, avocado, oats, nuts and fruits and vegetables. Health benefits of fiber include improved microbiome, lower blood sugar and cholesterol, promotes satiety and weight loss, prevents diverticulosis and colon cancer and prevents constipation and hemorrhoids. It's important to slowly increase your fiber intake and drink plenty of water.
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Huizen, Jennifer. “Soluble and Insoluble Fiber: Differences and Benefits.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 2017, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319176.php.
Kaczmarczyk, Melissa M, et al. “The Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber: beyond the Usual Suspects of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Cardiovascular Disease and Colon Cancer.” Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3399949/.
O'Brien, Sharon. “Top 20 Foods High in Soluble Fiber.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 15 June 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-soluble-fiber.
Sass, Cynthia. “What's the Difference Between Soluble and Insoluble Fiber?” Health.com, 2016, www.health.com/nutrition/types-of-fiber.
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