Fiber might not seem like the sexiest of subjects (especially if MetaMUCIL commercials come to mind), but it’s a crucial part of a healthy diet. Fiber helps us stabilize our blood sugar levels, manage our weight (by helping us feel full after meals) and keep our colons happy.
What is fiber?
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are all high-fiber foods. Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and acts as a kind of “broom” that sweeps through the colon and helps promote bowel regularity. Insoluble fiber is found in fruits with an edible peel or seeds, vegetables, oats, buckwheat and brown rice. Soluble fiber absorbs water and helps stimulate the wave-like muscle contractions, called peristalsis, that propel food and waste through the digestive tract and colon. It also has the ability to grab on to fats and toxins in the digestive tract and expel them from our bodies. Soluble fiber is in fruits (i.e. apples, oranges and grapefruit), vegetables, legumes (i.e. dry beans, lentils and peas), barley, oats and oat bran.
Soluble fiber is what makes us feel full after meals. It also slows the digestion of other carbohydrates, keeping blood sugar levels more stable—another reason fiber is so important for weight management! In fact, if you have prediabetes or diabetes and your blood sugar is not under control, lack of fiber may be a factor.
How much do we need?
Daily fiber recommendations vary, but 20 to 35 grams daily is typically a good goal. It’s best to spread your fiber intake out over the course of the day. If you’re not currently eating many fruits and vegetables or are eating a lot of processed foods and refined grains like white bread and white rice, you’ll want to increase your fiber intake gradually. Your body will need time to adjust, so adding too much at once can cause stomach upset. It’s also important to drink plenty of water to ensure the fiber can easily pass through your digestive tract.
How do we know we’re getting enough?
– Bowel movements should be regular, daily and effortless
– Stool should be relatively odorless, indicating a shorter transit time in the bowel
– Gas should be minimal or absent
What are some easy ways to add fiber to our diet?
– Choose whole grains over processed white varieties
– Add flaxseed meal, ground chia seeds or wheat bran to yogurt, cottage cheese and smoothies
– Load up on fiber superstars including berries, apples, pears, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets and cabbage
– Sprinkle nuts and seeds over salads, casseroles and stir-fries
– Add chickpeas or kidney beans to salads
– Dress up sandwiches with tomato slices and spinach and use hummus as a spread instead of mayo or mustard
– Blend whole fruits and vegetables into smoothies instead of juicing (the juicing process removes the fiber!)