What should we eat for more fiber? With nutrition boom and a million different diets it is difficult not to get lost in terminology, details and irrelevant, unhealthy “health tips”.
Today, we will talk about what foods to eat to get more fiber. We’ll see why everybody’s talking about fiber, explain some terminology you’ve encountered and make it easy to understand and follow.
What’s fiber and why it’s important
Dietary fiber is exclusively found in plant-based foods only. No animal-based product has fiber.
Fiber, also called dietary fiber is a term, used for plant-based carbohydrates that your body cannot digest. Because it can’t digest it, fibers reach the large intestine or colon. (Source: British Nutrition Foundation)
Even though fiber isn’t digested,
it’s vital for good health.
Fiber pulls water from the body into the intestines to keep things moving – which means fiber makes us poo regularly. What is more, these undigested fibers, like stick-urn paper, also gather up nasty chemicals that find their way into our intestines and that might be carcinogenic.
Fiber is a body’s personal cleaner that flushes the nasties down the toilet.
So if we don’t consume enough fiber and are chronically depriving our bodies of fiber, we are prone to constipation-based diseases. According to Professor Denis Burkitt, these include large bowel cancer, diverticulosis (small hernias of the digestive tract caused by long-term constipation), hemorrhoids and varicose veins. (Source: The China Study)
To keep things moving, a recommended daily intake for fiber is 30 – 35g/day.
An average US fiber intake is 18g/day.
Why do we run low on fiber?
To answer this question, we have to understand what’s the difference between the 2 types of carbohydrates:
- unrefined, complex carbohydrates and
- refined, simple carbohydrates.
Let’s start with complex carbs.
At least 99% of the carbohydrates that we consume are derived from fruits, vegetables and grains.
When we eat these foods in their natural form – unprocessed, unrefined, a large proportion of the carbohydrates are in the so-called “complex” form. This means that our body breaks the complex form down, piece by piece in a controlled, regulated manner called digestion.
This category of carbohydrates, complex carbs, includes the many forms of dietary fiber. However, almost all fiber remain undigested yet still provide enormous health benefits (Source: The China Study).
In addition, these complex carbs from whole foods are packaged with vitamins, minerals and accessible energy.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are the healthiest foods you can consume to get fiber,
and they are primarily made of carbohydrates.
On the other hand, we have refined, simple carbohydrates that have been stripped of their fiber, vitamins and minerals. They have no nutritional value for us, our body. They are what people also call “empty calories” – energy source with no other nutritional value.
Typical simple carbohydrates are found in foods like:
- white bread,
- processed snack like crackers and chips made with white flour,
- sweets, desserts, candy bars and
- sugar-laden soft drinks.
These highly refined carbohydrates originate from grains or sugar plants. They are broken down during digestion to the simplest form of the carbohydrates, which give the body blood sugar, or quick energy and quick return of hunger. No vitamins, minerals and very little fiber.
Unfortunately, most Americans consume large amounts of simple, refined carbohydrates and to little of complex carbohydrates.
For example, in 1996, 42% of Americans ate cakes, cookies, pastries or pies on any given day, while only 10% ate any dark green vegetables. (Source: Information Plus. Nutrition: a key to good health. Wylie, TX: Information Plus, 1999.)
Since an average US fiber intake is 18g/day, which is roughly 50% of daily recommendation. You can say, the US has a small, hard and dry fecal problem that is difficult to pass.
Soluble and insoluble fiber
Let’s explain some terminology you probably stumbled upon.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water.
Insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve in water.
Foods high in soluble fiber can help you feel full and satisfied for longer periods of time.
For example, after having a 2 slices of white bread and some peanut butter for breakfast, you’ll probably feel hungry in about 2 hours. But 2 slices of wholegrain bread with PB could last 3 or more hours – depends on your metabolism.
And because insoluble fiber absorbs water, it helps to soften the contents of your bowel. In other words, regular, smooth pooping.
What is more, both fibers work towards regular and relaxed poo time. While one type of fiber keeps your toilet stamina on a regular basis, the other type makes your poo the right consistency so you don’t sit on a toilet for prolonged periods of time, poping your eyes out, trying to squeeze it out.
The good news that will make things easy: fiber-rich foods typically contain mix of both types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. Meaning, you don’t have to stress about the type of fiber as long as you eat wholefoods diet because you’ll get the right mix of both.
What to eat for more fiber
A daily intake of more than 30g is easy to achieve if you switch from packed, processed foods and snacks to plant based wholefoods.
For example, you could eat a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet by only eating foods like pasta made from refined flour, potato chips, soda, sugary cereals and candy bars. Eating this way is a bad idea.
Even though you’re eating plant-based diet, these type of foods aren’t wholefoods and you will not be healthy for long. Wholefoods are foods found in their original, natural state.
Anything that you get on a farmers market is (most likely) wholefoods, anything that you but in a produce section is a wholefood.
In experimental research, the health benefits of a high-carbohydrate diet come from eating the complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables and not refined, simple carbs.
To increase your daily fiber intake you could:
- choose whole grains like wholewheat pasta or brown rice,
- eat potatoes with skins e.g. baked potato or boiled new potatoes – you can eat these hot or use for a salad,
- know which packaged foods are high in fibre by reading the nutrition label on the packaging. Food with at least 4g fibre per 100g is a good source; food with at least 7g fibre per 100g is an excellent source. (Source: British Nutrition Foundation)
To eat high-fiber diet we need to eat a lot of plant-based whole foods; such as beans, leafy vegetables and whole grains are all high in fiber. Animal-based product don’t have any fiber – meat, cheese, yogurt, etc. have 0g of fiber.
Although we digest very little or no fiber, it helps improve digestion and gut health. Fiber also dilute the caloric density of our diets, so we don’t overeat. It creates a sense of fullness and helps to shut down appetite.
A healthy, balanced diet can provide enough fibre – especially if you eat your 5 A DAY and choose wholegrain foods.
I hope you found the information that is useful to you. If you have any questions, want to share your experience or just chat on this topic, write a comment below. I’d love to hear your point of view!
Till next time,