Fiber Focused Food Tips For Optimal Health

by Lisa McCune, MS, MPH, RDN, LDN

Last Updated: July 30, 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there is a heightened awareness of the overall importance of improving health. One way to start is by increasing daily fiber intake. This can help reduce our risk of developing chronic diseases.

What is fiber and what does it do?
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and grains. It improves heart health by lowering blood pressure and controlling cholesterol, which can reduce the risk of heart disease. Fiber spreads nutrient absorption further along the intestinal tract, which helps to control blood sugar and reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes. A consistent high fiber diet may reduce the risk of cancer, especially colon and breast cancer, by providing a healthy gut environment. If you are looking to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight, fiber can help keep you full with fewer calories and prompt slower eating because high fiber foods take longer to chew. Fiber can also prevent constipation by softening stools and promoting regular bowel movements.

How much fiber should I consume daily?
The recommended intake is between 25-38g of dietary fiber daily. However, most adults in the United States consume less than half the recommended amount per day. Women should aim for at least 25g of fiber daily, while men need more and should aim for closer to 38g per day. Consuming fiber through whole foods rather than supplements is the preferred method, but supplements are certainly appropriate in circumstances where someone is unable to eat enough dietary fiber due to medical conditions.

Types of fiber and good sources.
Fiber is categorized in a few different ways - solubility, viscosity, and fermentability. The primary categories of fiber are soluble vs insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel like substance that helps improve digestion and may reduce cholesterol and control blood sugar. Good sources of soluble fiber include fruits such as apples and oranges, vegetables, beans, lentils and peas, oats and barley. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps soften stool, which promotes regular bowel movements. We can find insoluble fiber in things like wheat bran, nuts, beans (beans include both), cereals, vegetables, brown rice, and whole wheat flour. Viscous fiber refers to the gel-like substance that some soluble fibers form, which aid in digestion and weight loss. Good sources of this type of fiber are legumes, brussels sprouts, oats and flax seeds. Fermentability refers to fiber that can or cannot be digested or fermented by healthy gut bacteria. The best sources of fermented fibers are legumes and beans. As we can see, many of the sources of different fibers overlap, which is beneficial, as we can get more bang for our buck.

Ways to fiber up!
There are a few swaps that can increase the amount of fiber in your daily diet. The first is increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption. It is recommended to have five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Try filling half of your dinner plate with high fiber vegetables such as brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower or asparagus. Fresh fruits with an edible peel (like berries) make a delicious high fiber dessert or topping for oatmeal or cereal. Also try adding unsweetened dried fruits into muffins, cookies, breads and pancakes or top oatmeal or cereal for another fiber friendly option.

Try choosing whole grains whenever possible. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making half of your grain intake100% whole grain, which will help boost fiber consumption. Refined grains such as white flour, white rice and enriched breads have little or no fiber, so try to opt for whole grains whenever possible. Whole grains include food such as whole wheat bread (look for 100% whole wheat) or whole wheat crackers, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, cereals with at least 4g of fiber, wheat germ or oat bran.

Beans and legumes are also a great way to increase your daily consumption of fiber! They are also so easy to add into many dishes. Try adding ½ cup of black beans or garbanzo beans into salads, salsas, soups or chilis. Don’t forget high fiber toppings such as chia seeds, avocados, and nuts.

Recipes to try:
While filling up on fiber is the goal, it can come with some uncomfortable side effects such as gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. To reduce these symptoms, increase fiber slowly and drink plenty of fluids (9-13 cups daily).

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Lisa McCune, MS, MPH, RDN, LDN

Lisa McCune, MS, MPH, RDN, LDN

Teaching people about the positive things that food can do for the mind, body and spirit, and helping them understand that all foods can fit into a healthy diet is Lisa’s nutrition philosophy. She believes food should be exciting and fun! Lisa encourages celebration of non-scale victories, which focus on what good nutrition can do for your life beyond weight. She loves food, but also loves to break a sweat whether it’s cycling, walking her dog or doing CrossFit.