The indigestible parts of plant foods – the husk on the grain of wheat, the peel on apples, the skins on edible seeds, the thin strands in celery – are called fiber.
Fiber basically is carbohydrate and carbohydrates are glucose particles kept together by links or bonds. Such bonds are usually broken down by our system, letting the glucose get absorbed into blood and generating energy.
Nonetheless, the bonds that connect glucose molecules inside fiber can’t be broken down by our system, therefore, fiber keeps going through our intestines and exits our bodies as waste.
However, fiber can’t supply us any nutrient if not broken down. Which gives birth to the question — from elders to doctors and dietitians — what is it that empowers them all touting so positively about fiber?
The answer? Goodness.
Lots of people vouch for fiber for strong reasons like:
- Fiber-packed foods make you feel full
- Fiber flushes out toxins from your body
- Fiber can lower constipation and help you lose and maintain weight
- Depending on the kind of fiber, it helps you lower cholesterol and regulates your blood sugar
- Fiber offers fuel for good bacteria in your lower intestine, consequently, aiding your immunity.
- Enough fiber intake repels chronic diseases, such asc diabetes, heart disease, indigestion and certain types of cancer.
Bottom line: fiber is one nutrient that you don’t want to miss out on.
Surprisingly enough, majority of the people aren’t taking enough fiber.
The Institute of Medicine advises men and women to take 38g and 25g of fiber per day consecutively. Government guidelines of July, 2015 state that we should increase fiber intake to 30g per day as a rule of balanced diet.
Unfortunately, majority of the adults are taking about 18g per day on average, and that’s almost half the amount recommended.
And in terms of kids and teenagers, they’re only taking about 15g or less per day. Whereas the requirements are:
- 2 to 5 year-olds: around 15g of fiber per day
- 5 to 11 year-olds: around 20g of fiber per day
- 11 to 16 year-olds: around 25g of fiber per day
Although the kids under 16 don’t need fiber as much as adults and teenagers, they sure need increase from the currently consumed amount. All in all, we really need to up our fiber consumption.
But before we discuss how to increase fiber intake, let’s go over the different types of fibers that are out there.
TYPES OF FIBER
There are many sorts of fiber, each designed to work differently for your body and give different health perks. Perhaps you’ve heard the terms “soluble” and “insoluble” fiber. These 2 names represent distinct types of nutrients.
While some are incredibly beneficial, others can give birth to digestive problems. There actually is a massive array of various fibers in foods. However, the problem is: they’re almost always classified differently, making it really confusing to understand.
Fiber usually is sorted into 2 prime types:
- Dietary fiber: Fiber discovered naturally in foods.
- Functional fiber: Fiber found by extracting whole foods, then added to processed foods.
That said, there’s a huge problem classifying fiber this way since it tells us nothing about their health perks.
A well-known alternative is to sort them swearing by their solubility – ‘soluble’ and ‘insoluble’.
Soluble fiber: This sort of fiber pulls water and gels while digesting, ultimately slowing up your digestion. For this reason, it takes longer for your body to absorb sugar (glucose) from the foods you eat. And this helps prevent your blood sugar levels from shooting up — which is a crucial aspect of managing diabetes.
Soluble fiber can be found in nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, peas, oat bran, some fruits, vegetables and a well-known fiber supplement called psyllium.
Some soluble fibers might help lower the risk of heart diseases. Such fibers also bind with fatty acids and remove them from your body, ultimately lowering your LDL (bad) cholesterol. All sorts of soluble fibers slow dig
Insoluble fiber: Insoluble fiber comes from foods like wheat bran, whole grains and vegetables. Not only it increases your stool amount, it helps hydrate and move stool through our system. And this is why, insoluble fiber is an effective solution to constipation.
With that all out of the way, over the rest of the course of this piece, we’d go over 10 best ways you can integrate more fiber into your diet. Let’s get started:
(1) Eat lots of fruits
Although some fruits contain more fiber than others, all of them do a great job of packing you with fiber.
Whether you have it with cereal, as a snack or simply desert, fruits are a great way of injecting more fiber into your diet. Apples, pears, oranges and berries are some of the richest fruits when it comes to fiber. Their great taste and incredible portability is what makes them a great snack.
You can also try dried fruits as a part your dessert, however, keep in mind that dry fruits are sticky and can cause tooth decay. So it’s suggested that you take it as a part of your meal only, not a between-meal snack.
And while you’re at it, why not start building the habit of taking 2 apples a day? Not only to keep the doctor away, but because they serve as a great source of pectin, a soluble fiber contributing to our satiety alongside digesting slowly. A study revealed that 5g of pectin could satiate a person for up to 4 hours. Worth it?
Further, you can also load yourself up with a crunchy pear for lunch to satisfy your sweet tooth alongside keeping you full with a pleasant 6g of tummy-filler.
You may also want to try snacking on pomegranate seeds as 50% of this ruby-red fruit is stashed with 5.6g of fiber, making pomegranate arils a delightful snack.
Another great way of taking more fiber is having figs for dessert. Figs should make it to the list of your favorite fruits, and if they did not, you sure are about to include them now. In addition to being lusciously sweet, crunching on these 4 purple orbs pack you with about 8g of fiber. Plus, they’re an impressive source of anemia-conflicting iron and antioxidants, and help stabilize triglyceride and blood sugar levels. Always go for fresh figs over dried as the latter contains more sugar.
And lastly, step away from fruit juices because while processing the fruits into juice, the peels (made of fiber) get left behind.
(2) Dig in into veggies
There are a ton of reasons why you should have plenty of veggies. For one, they reduce the risk of many long-term diseases. Plus, nonstarchy veggies especially are low in calorie and highly nutritious, involving fiber.
So always try to include fiber-rich veggies as a part of your snack and meal. Take lots of veggies with meals, be it a side dish or processed into sauces, curries or stews. Have vegetable soup for lunch, and if you’re in a rush, frozen vegetables will cut it as well.
You may also want to try baby carrots and broccoli flowers dipped into healthy ranch sauce. This will make you full by offering nearly 5g of fiber in each cup of vegetables. Try this 3 days a week as your afternoon snack.
Further, there’s nothing wrong in cooking up a bowl of split pea soup every now and then. And as nothing tops a hot pot of soup when the temperature starts plummeting, why not try swapping your regular pot of chicken noodle with split pea soup this winter? Only 100g of legumes loaded in 8g of filling fiber for 118 calories.
Want to know how else you can increase your vegetable consumption?
Start taking your veggies prior to your core meal. And just in case you are wondering whether such an approach would work or not, here are 2 studies that advocate eating veggies beforehand:
- Women having salad prior to a meal had 23% more veggies than those given salad during the meal itself. (See here)
- Having vegetable soup or salad prior to a meal has shown links to consuming lesser calories at a meal. (See here)
(3) Snack on popcorn
Although we’re doing a great job of drilling down on our favorite snacks, the problem is that we’re unable to stop just at a handful of those heavenly potato chips.
Don’t get so immersed into the crunch and saltiness by gobbling an entire pack of Lay’s on your next Netflix session.
Go for popcorns instead. Because popcorn is one of the top snacks around with a low-calorie whole-grain snack supplying you 4g of fiber on every 28g taken, providing that we’re talking about 3 cups of air-popped popcorn here.
Air-popped popcorn is extremely healthy and snacking on them can help you fight the temptation of sweets and fatty foods. Just make sure not add too much of salt, butter and other toppings and you’re well on your way to more fiber.
(4) Don’t Remove Eatable Skins from Fruits and Veggies
Don’t remove the eatable skins when possible as peels contain good stuff like vitamins, antioxidants, and most importantly ‘fiber’. Apple, grape, pear, cucumber and sweet potato skins are a few examples.
Peeling the skins means removing half the fiber. For instance:
- 1 small apple offers 4g of fiber, whereas a peeled one has only 2g.
- 1 cucumber offers 2g of fiber, where half of it comes from the peel.
- 1 small potato offers 4g of fiber where 2g comprises in the skin.
Don’t throw your citrus peels out the window, use your orange rind for adding extra flavor to your fish or chicken. Go for boiled, baked or jacket potatoes with skins on. Baby potatoes are also a cool pick. Baked potatoes with skins on rather than mashed increases the fiber by 3g at least, varying on the size of the potato.
On top of that, having the skin on can offer your food a unique taste and feel and also reduce your complete prep time.
With all that said, remember you have to be careful to avoid pesticide residues. Wash the skins thoroughly and go for organic varieties when possible.
However, if your fruit or veggie has a hard exterior, you’d be better off taking it off. Plus, if you can’t stand taste and/or the feel of potato skin, you should allow yourself to peel it off rather than having no vegetable whatsoever.
Nonetheless, if you want to yield the utmost advantage from the extra nutrients of the peels, I’d support you all the way.
(5) Chug down a ton water
Increasing water intake alongside fiber is extremely crucial. Why?
Well… fiber attracts water into your intestines. Without enough water, fiber can actually worsen your constipation instead of improving it.
Try drinking 8 glasses of water per day at least. Also, increase the intake of other unsweetened drinks if possible. However, water is highly preferred with meals over cola or iced tea.
Carry water bottles for drinking during the day and replace your coffee break with a water break and a stroll for better results.
(6) Load up on legumes
Legumes are a great source of all 3 well-known forms of food fiber – soluble, insoluble and resistant starch – which cause many of the protective effects of legumes. They’re extremely rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and carbs.
In fact, one cup of cooked beans can offer you up to 75% of your regular fiber needs. The fiber amount in legumes varies from 3g to 6g per serving of cooked legumes.
Fiber rich legumes, such as, peas, beans and lentils are amongst the best fiber sources. Take one serving regularly by adding them into soups, salads, casseroles, or in puree to cook a tasty dip.
Switching meat with legumes in a few meals each week is linked to longer lifespan and reduced chances of many long-term diseases. Their positive effect on gut microbiome could potentially be somewhat responsible for these benefits (see here). There are a number of ways you can increase your legume intake, some of them are as follows:
- Toss chickpeas into Greek salad for more protein and fiber
- Throw in cooked black beans into your omelet.
- Add cooked lentils into your leafy green salad.
- Add cooked lentils, chopped red onion and chopped bell pepper into your vinaigrette to create a delicious salad.
- Use hummus instead of mayonnaise in your sandwiches.
- Go for split pea, lentil soup, black bean or minestrone rather than the typical chicken noodle.
- Throw in chickpeas to who-grain recipes. For instance, barley, quinoa and brow rice pilafs.
- Use various legumes while making chili. Try black beans, chickpeas and soy beans aside from kidney beans.
- Toss cooked black beans into your tacos and burritos.
- Use cooked lentils into your quesadillas alongside other fillings you love.
- Incorporate cooked white kidney beans into your tomato-based pasta sauce to get a Mediterranean sort of meal.
- Add cooked lentils in cooked leafy greens like Swiss chard or spinach to get a healthy side dish
(7) Lean on fiber supplements
Supplements are great for injecting fiber into our diets. Let’s get to know about the best fiber supplements below:
Psyllium: Psyllium husk is the commonest fiber found in supplements. Psyllium comes from a bush-like herb named Plantago ovate. The advantages of Psyllium includes advocating healthy cholesterol levels already within the normal level. One downside is that the powder thickens rapidly, making it hard to add into drinks.
Inulin: This element is extracted from foods like chicory root and is colorless and tasteless, making it easy to incorporate into foods. Inulin comprises prebiotic features that stimulate good bacteria in our guts. One setback of insulin is that it hasn’t shown much help with regularity or digestive problems.
Wheat dextrin: This is a byproduct of wheat processing often used to cook and dissolve in water. Wheat dextrin comprises a bit of gluten, therefore, it’s not good for those with gluten or celiac prejudice.
Methylcellulose: This is a non-fermentable fiber, meaning it won’t give birth to digestive issues. Methylcellulose comprises similar characteristics as psyllium, generating gel in the digestive area to increase stool.
Gum acacia: This acacia tree generated gum is superb for lower GI well-being and is catching popularity rapidly.
White powder vs. pill: This is your personal taste and we advise you ask your doctor which sort of fiber would be your best suit. Start by injecting a bit of fiber into your food and drink lots of water during the day. A few of the fiber supplements can give birth to digestive side effects, such as, bloating, gas and queasiness. So it’s highly preferred you raise your fiber intake gradually.
Tips for getting started with fiber supplements
Want to know when you should opt for a fiber supplement? The following guidelines can help you avoid distress and interruptions with drugs and nutrition absorption while taking fiber supplements:
- Increase your fiber intake gradually.
- Don’t take more fiber than your body needs.
- Drink lots of water to avoid distress.
- Allocate fiber consumption throughout the day.
- Take your supplements from medicine; take the medicines at least 1 hour prior to fiber supplements or 2 hours after.
(8) Reduce consuming processed food
Maintaining the natural formation of plant fiber throughout food processing keeps your sugar levels in check. This means manufacturers can make their goods healthier without replacing the elements.
Go for the least processed food when possible. For example, load up on brown rice instead of white rice and choose 100% whole-wheat bread rather than white or multigrain. Whole grains comprise 2x fiber than their purified counterpart.
Extremely processed snack bars usually comprise a combination of added sugar and processed starch with very little vitamins and minerals. Simply including isolated fiber back in doesn’t make up for those nutrition deficits.
(9) Make friends with chia seeds
This little food is worth rejoicing as it’s loaded with fiber, nutrition and is easy to combine almost into anything.
You can bake them into pancakes, scones, muffins, even make pudding out of them. And a little bit of chia seeds goes a long way: 1 tbsp. has nearly 10g of fiber.
Chia seeds also offer you omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and protein. These little fellas gel in water and are 95% insoluble fiber.
Try this: Fire up your day with an omega-3 all-star breakfast. Simple and easy-to-make foods like yogurt alongside 1 tbsp. of chia seeds on top.
Or, you can opt for a quick, homemade smoothie using chia seeds, unsweetened almond milk and your beloved fruits offering you energy to keep your body buzzing all day.
(10) Stash yourself with avocados
These extremely nutritious pieces with buttery, green flesh aren’t just packed with healthy monounsaturated fatty acids but fiber as well. In fact, half an avocado offers 5g of fiber (see here).
Avocados are associated with improving heart health and offer overall superior diet quality and nutrient consumption (See here). You can replace butter with avocado or even as salad toppings, other dishes or even dessert.
Yes, avocado may be an awkward fit for dessert, but in all honesty, it tastes superb. This famous fruit has a buttery, dairy-type feel making it the #1 element for everything – from ice creams to popsicles.
With a bit of creativity, planning, and a few more add-ons to your grocery list, you’ll easily be able to reach your daily fiber requirements using healthy, delightful foods.
Just make sure not to engulf yourself with too many changes right away. Choose 1 or 2 ideas to test each week and stick with those that show the best result for you and your family.