Fiber is an essential component to a healthy, balanced diet. You’ve probably heard or read that you should eat more fiber, which is found primarily in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Foods containing fiber can provide myriad health benefits, such as helping regulate bowel movements and lowering your risk of heart disease. Finding fiber-rich foods is not difficult, yet many people fail to consume sufficient amounts of fiber every day.
What Is Fiber?
Dietary fiber, or roughage, includes plant foods that the body can’t easily digest and absorb. You see, the body does not digest fiber like it does protein, fats, or carbohydrates. Fiber passes relatively intact though the stomach, small intestine, and colon and out of the body. There are classes of fiber: soluble and insoluble. The former dissolves in water, while the latter does not dissolve in water.
- Soluble Fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel-like substance that can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. It is commonly found in peas, apples, oats, beans, carrots, citrus fruits, psyllium, and barley
- Insoluble Fiber: This type of fiber facilitates the movement of material through the digestive tract. It helps to increase stool bulk, which is beneficial for those who suffer from constipation or irregular bowel movements. You can get insoluble fiber by eating more cauliflower, beans, nuts, wheat bran, whole-wheat flour, green beans, and potatoes.
How Much Fiber Do You Need?
According to the National Academies, women should get a minimum of 21 to 25 grams (g) of fiber per day. If they are pregnant or breastfeeding, the recommendations are even higher. Men should aim to consume 30 to 38 g of fiber, but experts say that about 95% of Americans do not hit those numbers. Consuming that much is easy if you choose the right foods, placing an emphasis on plant-based foods. You do not have to solely eat plant-based foods, but adding them to your meals will help you meet your recommended daily fiber intake. For reference, the following sample foods all have fiber:
- 1 cup of quinoa: 4 g
- 1 cup of Brussels sprouts: 3 g
- 1/2 cup dry oats: 4 g
- 1/2 cup berries: 4-8 g
Signs That You Need More Fiber
While you may not be able to track every gram of fiber you consume, there are ways to tell if you don’t have enough in your diet. If your body lacks sufficient fiber, you may experience the following signs:
- Your bowel movements are irregular: Believe it or not, feeling backed up is not normal, despite what you may have read. Irregular can also mean that you eliminate too frequently. Whichever category you fall into, eating more fiber can help regulate your bowel movements. Fiber helps control stool consistency and how quickly digested food moves through the gut.
- Having a hard time losing or maintaining weight: Fiber is a nutrient to focus on if you want to maintain a healthy weight or encourage weight loss. Fiber helps you feel full from meals because it adds bulk, but it also helps promote a healthy appetite. Research studies confirm that people who eat more fiber tend to have a healthier body weight and an easier time losing weight.
- You are hungry right after you eat: Fiber is a non-digestible part of carbohydrates, so it works to fill your gut and aid feelings of satiety. That means that you’ll feel full after a meal and won’t reach for unnecessary snacks.
- Your cholesterol levels are higher than they should be: If a recent blood test revealed that your cholesterol levels are higher than usual, you may lack sufficient fiber in your diet. Fiber binds to cholesterol in the gut and helps eliminate it from the body via waste. Eating more fiber, then, helps keep cholesterol levels in check.
Fiber plays many roles in the body, helping it function on several levels. It helps to encourage bowel regularity and helps control cholesterol levels, appetite, and gut health. If you are like most Americans, you do not currently get enough in your diet. If you have trouble eating the right foods to increase fiber intake, consider discussing a fiber supplement with your healthcare professional.