The best high-fiber foods, according to a nutritionist

It might be time to reach for an extra serving of greens, top off your breakfast with berries, or dust off your blender. Most Americans don’t get enough fiber. As in, less than 5%. We are incredibly deficient (and the experts are concerned). While this is shocking, it is not totally surprising. After all, the Standard American Diet is virtually devoid of fiber. We obsess over carbs and protein, but neglect the small but mighty punch of fiber. And therefore, we are overfed but undernourished. Without further ado, let’s discuss what fiber is and the best high-fiber foods to help fill you up.

Featured image by Michelle Nash.

What is fiber?

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate. Includes a broad spectrum of plant-based material (polysaccharides, pectin, guar gum, etc.) that cannot be digested by the body. Although most carbs break down into sugar molecules, fiber is an outlier. Instead, fiber passes through the body undigested. He’s coming along for the ride, but this is a good thing! The fact that it is not digested is precisely why it is so important. Fiber helps minimize constipation, regulates hunger cues, keeps blood sugar in check, slows glucose absorption, promotes heart health, and more. The FDA has here a useful and easy to digest guide on fiber.

Image by Michelle Nash

Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber

There are two types of fiber. Both are essential, but each plays a different role in our health.

Soluble fiber

Fiber that dissolves in water. Soluble fiber is derived from gums and pectins. It turns into a thick, gelatinous gel when dissolved in water. This gel helps reduce cholesterol levels, especially LDL. Soluble fiber also helps lower glucose levels. It can be found in chia seeds, beans, fruits, carrots, oats, and more.

insoluble fiber

Fiber that does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation and keeps things moving. Insoluble fiber is found in whole wheat flour, cauliflower, almonds, and potatoes.

Image by Michelle Nash

Fiber Sources

Fiber is found primarily in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. A good rule of thumb: Whole foods, rich in color, are often high in fiber. Another reason to eat the rainbow!

Cooked or raw, the produce is an incredible source of fiber. However, studies show that for the greatest fiber retention, eat your vegetables raw (or as raw as possible). Cooking vegetables, boiling, roasting, etc., can reduce fiber by almost half. This is helpful if you are new to fiber! Eventually, the biggest bang for your buck is loading up on mostly raw vegetables. (An apple a day…) By trial and error, you will find what works best for your body.

The best fiber-rich foods

Before we dive into the benefits of a high-fiber diet, let’s take a look at some of the best cost-effective high-fiber foods. For context, here is a short list of foods that offer a good source of fiber, complete with their approximate fiber content:

  • A cup of edamame: 18 grams
  • A cup of lentils: 16 grams
  • A cup of black beans: 15 grams
  • A cup of chickpeas: 12 grams
  • Two tablespoons of chia seeds: 10 grams
  • A cup of raspberries: 8 grams
  • Half a cup of raw pistachios: 7 grams
  • A persimmon: 6 grams
  • A cup of broccoli: 5 grams
  • Half a cup of avocado: 5 grams
Image by Michelle Nash

Why Americans Don’t Get Enough Fiber

When we talk about the pitfalls of the American diet, we tend to focus on our excessive amounts of processed sugar, table salt, and nutrient-dense calories. Therefore, we forget to talk about fiber. There’s a nuance to its absence, but it mostly comes down to what we’re exposed to. The traditional American diet is lacking in fiber. In addition, what they offer us at gas stations and fast food outlets does not make it any easier. We have wedged ourselves into the fiber gap.

Consider this list of low-fiber foods. How many of these options do we usually associate with the standard American diet?

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white flour pancakes, bagels, bread, pasta, and white rice.
  • Animal protein.
  • Dairy products.
  • Low-fiber packaged products, such as cereals, chips, crackers, and granola bars.
  • Most desserts, such as traditional cookies, donuts, and cakes.
  • Soft drinks and other sugary drinks.

Centuries ago, it was not like that. The human species has traditionally evolved to eat fiber, lots of it. Long before we learned to domesticate animals, we subsisted primarily on fiber-rich fruits, roots, shoots, nuts, and seeds.

Image by Michelle Nash

How much fiber do you need each day?

It is up for debate. However, growing research shows that the official recommendations (less than 30 grams/day) may be lower than what we really need for optimal health. What we really need may be 50 grams/day (or more). Currently, the average American consumes 10 to 15 grams of fiber per day, far from it. Let these statistics allow you to add more fiber, immediately.

Yes. A lack of fiber can cause more than just constipation. In fact, it can lead to a host of unwanted diseases (and even cancer). A lack of fiber can mean an unhealthy digestive system, which can lead to short- and long-term health complications. Low-fiber diets have been linked to everything from colon cancer to unhealthy cholesterol levels, a weakened immune system, and obesity.

Image by Michelle Nash

How to slowly eat more fiber

No need to do a full detoxUnless that speaks to you, of course! Instead, consider the notion of “displacement.” The more fiber-rich ingredients you add to your plate, the more it will naturally crowd out more processed, nutrient-poor foods.

Take advantage of meal prep

Start preparing meals with more plant-based foods. You’ll be much more likely to reach for fiber foods when they’re ready to eat (and easy to see). Take a look at these high-fiber recipes for inspo.

start slow

Instead of adding fiber-rich foods all at once, add 1-2 servings a day to your regular diet. Do this for a week, let your body adjust, then add another serving the following week. This may seem like adding salads along with your main course or opting for whole grains like barley, oats, and brown rice. All of these alternatives are excellent sources of fiber and require little change in your habits.

Consider simple exchanges

For example, opt for high-fiber foods, like your regular bowl of cereal for high-fiber cereal, white pasta for 100% whole wheat pasta, berries instead of a banana, and a high-fiber protein bar instead. of his usual food. snack and go.

Be creative

Food is fun! Enjoy an alternative weekend breakfast, like this beautiful (and functional) breakfast board. Or try one of our many favorite soups to wind down. Eating more fiber doesn’t require grinding up wheat bran.

Image by Michelle Nash

The benefits of high fiber foods

They are a penny a dozen. Eating more fiber improves digestion, maintains gut health (reducing the risk of hemorrhoids, for example), lowers cholesterol levels, controls blood sugar levels, helps achieve a healthy weight, and promotes longevity.

  • Helps control blood sugar levels. In people with diabetes, fiber, especially soluble fiber, can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber can also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Helps achieve a healthy weight. High-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods, so you’ll likely eat less and feel full longer. And high-fiber foods tend to take longer to eat and are less “energy dense,” meaning they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
  • Helps you live longer. Studies suggest that increasing the intake of dietary fiber, especially fiber from cereals, is associated with a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and all types of cancer.

Chronic constipation relief

According to this article, prioritizing high-fiber foods in your diet significantly outperformed placebo for chronic constipation relief. Put another way: fiber keeps everything moving. And who doesn’t want to be regular? Dietary fiber softens the stool, making it easier to pass.

gut health

We have trillions of bacteria living in and around the human digestive tract. They need fiber! Bacteria feed on it. When there is no fiber to eat, some forms of intestinal bacteria turn to the lining that protects the colon, which is not good. Basically, fiber keeps pro-inflammatory cells in check, improving overall gut health.

disease prevention

Studies have found that a high fiber diet probably reduces the risk of colorectal cancer. In addition to helping prevent other diseases, fiber is key to heart health. Soluble fiber can help lower levels of “bad” or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Studies have also shown that high-fiber foods may have other benefits for heart health, such as lowering blood pressure and inflammation.

healthier body weight

Fiber promotes a feeling of fullness more effectively than low-fiber and/or processed foods. In turn, shown in research to support weight loss. This is a win-win, as increasing fiber intake will naturally encourage swapping out less healthy foods for natural, plant-based alternatives. Although weight loss is not the main goal of a high-fiber diet, most people end up losing a small (or moderate) amount of weight after increasing their fiber intake.

Improve insulin sensitivity

Linked to preventing heart disease, fiber helps prevent insulin resistance. It is estimated that 88% of Americans are metabolically unhealthy. Fiber can reverse these statistics tremendously. Time and time again, fiber has been shown to keep blood sugar levels low throughout the day. In essence, the fiber “dilutes” the sugars, forcing them to take longer to absorb into the bloodstream.

This post was originally published on April 25, 2022 and has since been updated.

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