We’ve all heard of fiber and most folks know we should be eating it... but what exactly is it and why is fiber so fabulous?
Fiber is PLANT roughage and it’s only found in foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. How much fiber is in meat, fish, eggs and dairy? They’re not plants, so... ZERO.
One thing that makes the fiber in plant foods special is that it is not immediately broken down by your body. It remains intact as it travels through the digestive tract, helping to keep everything else moving right along with it. As Dr. Awosika says, "It has the wheels!"
There are many specific kinds of fiber but they all fit into two basic categories: Soluble (think sponge) and Insoluble (think broom). These work together to clear waste, regulate digestion, absorb fatty acids and control blood sugar levels. Fiber also soaks up water along the way, creating bulk. It helps keep you “regular” and also leads to a feeling of fullness, or satiety – which is a bonus when you’re trying to lose weight!
Our bodies are smart, and it’s their job to keep everything in balance. Unfortunately, most Americans are eating a diet centered around processed foods and animal products, so there’s very little fiber moving through the digestive tract to grab onto waste, chemicals, hormones and carcinogens which our bodies are trying hard to get rid of. Fiber is vital because it allows our bodies to “take out the trash” ... someone’s gotta do it, right?
Did you know that fiber is also great for your gut “microbiome”? Because plant roughage isn’t digested in the small intestine, it makes it to all the way to your gut pretty much intact, providing healthy food for all the good bacteria that live there. That’s important since those bacteria produce metabolites which may improve immune function and nutritional status, reduce inflammation and chronic disease, and even regulate mood and behavior.1
Unfortunately, according to the FDA, the majority of Americans get way less than their recommended amount of dietary fiber per day.2 This is a real concern because low fiber intake has been associated with major health risks like coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. It's crazy... fiber is a nutrient found in thousands of colorful, delicious and satisfying plant foods yet most people are not even getting close to the Daily Value of 25-38 grams.
If YOUR diet is falling short on fiber, here are just a few ways to include more plant foods in your day.
Breakfast: Instead of the usual egg sandwich or bagel with cream cheese... TRY a bowl of oatmeal with nuts and fresh berries, or maybe a beans and greens burrito in a corn tortilla with mango salsa.
Lunch: Ditch that deli sandwich... TRY brown bagging a hearty vegetable salad topped with broccoli, chickpeas, and diced sweet potato or a veggie burger on whole grain bread. Load up on the lettuce, tomato and onion and be sure to include a piece of fresh fruit on the side.
Snack: Chips, crackers and that afternoon latte are stimulants, not food... TRY carrot and celery sticks with hummus, bean salad, a fruit bowl or blended green smoothie.
Dinner: If meat is the normally the center of your plate, start paying attention to the side dishes... TRY tweaking your traditional favorites by filling them with vegetables, beans and grains. Black Bean Chili? Cabbage Soup? Pasta Primavera? You choose!
Begin by enjoying more of the colorful, nutrient-dense plant foods you already love. Once you get tired of the basics, then it's time to get curious. Ever tried bulgur or farro? How about jicama and bok choy? Mung or cranberry beans? Take advantage of seasonal fruits to discover this month's freshest sweet treat. By adding a variety of vegetables, whole grains, fruits and legumes to each and every meal your diet will soon be filled with fabulous of fiber... and health!
- Conlon MA, Bird AR. The impact of diet and lifestyle on gut microbiota and human health. Nutrients. 2015;7:17-44.