Are you eating enough fiber? Well, if you're not sure let's start with the basics.
Dietary fiber - found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds - is a carbohydrate that your body is unable to digest. Soluble fiber can dissolve in water to help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels; common foods containing soluble fiber include oats, beans, avocados, broccoli, sweet potatoes, seeds, apples, and blueberries. In contrast, insoluble fiber cannot dissolve and passes through your digestive system mostly intact, bulking up stool and aiding with constipation or irregular stools. This kind of fiber is found in whole wheat, whole grains, brown rice, legumes, carrots, cucumbers, fruits with seeds, dark leafy greens, and nuts.
Here are the five main benefits of fiber:
Your gut microbiome is composed of microorganisms that live inside your digestive tract to help with digestion and immune system function, and it is heavily influenced by what you eat. Eating soluble fiber helps the bacteria in our gut flourish. Fiber interacts with bacteria in the gut to facilitate metabolism and promote colon health. Fiber also helps to build a mucus barrier in the colon, which works to shield the body from harmful pathogens.
Foods that are high in fiber tend to be more filling. They often take longer to eat, have less calories per volume, and take longer to pass through the digestive tract. Studies have shown that increasing consumption of fiber leads to more satiety and less subsequent hunger after the meal, likely because fiber absorbs water in the stomach and expands. This is why eating more fiber can help with weight control and even weight loss.
A high-fiber diet, particularly of soluble fibers, has the potential to improve blood glucose control by slowing the absorption of sugar into the blood and to decrease accumulated visceral fat. Soluble fibers are also promising in reducing cholesterol. Increasing fiber intake may be effective in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes for both men and women.
Fiber is able to eliminate some toxins from the body, as it has been shown to bind to toxins and prevent them from affecting the body. After fiber binds to toxins, it removes them from the body with its own excretion.
There is mixed evidence on whether or not high intake of fiber is preventative of cancer. For example, some studies show no evidence of reducing colorectal cancer, while other studies show that increasing fiber consumption and lowering fat intake could lower risk factors for colorectal cancer. Evidence has also shown a lower risk of breast cancer among women who consume significantly more fiber than other women, especially during adolescence and early adulthood.
There are many easy ways to get more fiber into your diet. Consuming whole foods will provide a greater variety of fibers, vitamins compared to taking supplements or eating processed or refined foods, which usually have lost much of the fiber. As a rule of thumb, the most fibrous foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. For optimal health, aim for 30 different types of plants per week - this can include herbs and spices. Fruits and vegetables will not only be a great source of fiber, but also add nutrient diversity and antioxidants.
I always prefer to eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices, because juices strip all of the fiber out of the fruits. Beans, as a naturally great source of fiber, are really yummy salad toppings or as a side dish and is a great source of insoluble fiber.
An easy way to get more fiber is to focus on whole grains, for example, brown rice, oats, millet, buckwheat rather than processed, white versions. E.g. instead of white rice, go for brown rice. Try to add some diversity to your grains by mixing in some quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth.
If too much fiber makes you bloated, this might mean that your gut is not yet adapted to digesting all that fiber. Yet. So go slowly, increase the amount of fiber you ingest per week in small increments. If the problem persists, please see your doctor to find out if you have an underlying health condition.