When you eat food that is rich in fiber, it fills you up and keeps you satisfied longer. Foods low in fiber are digested faster and move through your body rapidly. Complex carbohydrates that are rich in fiber slow down digestion and may help prevent a sharp rise in blood sugar.
Fiber also helps break down cholesterol. All of this can help balance your hormones and can have a positive impact on a range of issues such as:
- Depression and anxiety
- Chronic inflammation
- and GI issues, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Exactly What is Fiber?
Sometimes referred to as roughage or bulk, fiber includes the part of the plant food that your body can’t digest or absorb. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber, and insoluble fiber. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber are important for health, digestion, and preventing disease.
Soluble fiber is broken down during digestion. It helps control blood sugar and lower cholesterol levels. Other interesting information about soluble fiber includes:
- Attracts water and turns to gel during digestion
- Slows the digestive process down
- May help lower risk of heart disease
- Found in: oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, citrus fruits and vegetables
Insoluble fiber is also known as roughage. This type of fiber is not broken down in the digestive tract. Insoluble fiber can help prevent constipation, and it may also help reduce blood pressure. Other interesting information about insoluble fiber includes:
- Adds bulk to the stool
- Aids in helping food pass quickly through the stomach and small intestines
- Found in: wheat bran, vegetables, nuts, beans, cauliflower, potatoes, whole grains
Signs That You May Not Be Getting Enough Fiber
Constipation is the most obvious sign of a lack of fiber – especially in children. Another sign of low fiber is if you find yourself getting hungry often. For people who have diabetes, blood sugar fluctuations may also be an indication.
Is there such a thing as “too much fiber”?
NOT REALLY. We need about 25-40 grams of fiber in a day. Most Americans aren’t even getting half of that! If you eat too much fiber and don’t drink enough water, it can cause gas, bloating, and other digestive issues. However, most distress occurs from artificial fiber. Generally, fiber from real food is well tolerated – even in high amounts.
Are there any long-term risks associated with low fiber intake?
YES. Chronic constipation can put a strain on the intestines and can increase the risk of conditions such as diverticulosis, and it may increase the risk of colon cancer.
Benefits of a High Fiber Diet
Having a high fiber diet is good for you in many different ways. For instance, fiber:
- Normalizes bowel movements by increasing the weight and size of stool while softening it
- Helps maintain bowel health
- Reduces the risk of hemorrhoids and diverticular disease
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Helps control blood sugar levels
- Aids in achieving healthy weight
Quick Tips to Incorporate Fiber Into Your Diet
#1 – Start with breakfast.
Starting off with a high fiber breakfast is a great way to fit more fiber into your routine. Eat oatmeal or whole/sprouted grain bread. Try selecting cereal that has at least 5 grams or more of fiber per serving. Look for whole grain, bran, or fiber in the name, or try adding a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite dish.
#2 – Eat more fruits & veggies.
Eat a variety of whole fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are naturally rich in fiber as well as vitamins and minerals. Aim to eat five or more servings per day, and avoid juicing, which throws away the pulp (which is where most of the fiber is!).
#3 – Beware of certain products.
Beware of products like yogurt, ice cream, chocolate, enhanced waters, or energy bars that h ave added, isolated fiber.
#4 – Load up on Legumes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, beans, peas, and lentils are excellent sources of fiber. Cook dry beans by soaking them overnight and rinsing them to reduce gas. Drain and rinse canned beans before use.
#5 – Reduce packaged and processed foods!
Start today for a healthier tomorrow.
There’s no doubt that fiber is good for you. However, to avoid complications (ex: gas, bloating, or cramping), gradually increase fiber in your diet over the course of a few weeks to allow your digestive system to adjust.
About Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN
Parul is a Clinical Dietitian in Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Cary Hospital. For information related to diet and nutrition, or to speak to one of our licensed, registered dietitians, contact Outpatient Nutrition Services today. Insurance coverage and costs may vary.