We get these questions all the time: How much fiber should I be eating every day? What is the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber? If you have these questions, too, you’re not alone and you’re in the right place! Fiber is a commonly misunderstood nutrient that is essential to everyday health. In this article we’ll explore what fiber is, the different types of fiber, benefits to incorporating fiber in your diet, and how much fiber you should be eating every day.
What is Fiber? Where Can I Get It?
Fiber is a plant-based nutrient often referred to as “roughage” or “bulk” that helps efficiently move food through the body. Fiber only comes from plant-based foods, and unfortunately, most Americans don’t eat nearly enough fiber every day!
Fiber is found in a plethora of foods, many of which you may already have in your typical diet, but not in a high enough quantity. It is only found in foods that come from plants, so fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and seeds are all great sources. These foods come with few calories but tons of benefits, so adding them to your diet (if you haven’t already!) is a great, easy idea that can also result in weight loss and better overall health!
Related: Your Comprehensive Guide to Grains
17 Great Sources of Fiber
Here are some of the best sources of fiber that you should make sure to incorporate into your diet!
- Fruits (Bananas, apples, oranges)
- Brussels sprouts
- Black beans
- Flax Seeds
- Berries (Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
- Whole wheat pasta
- Chia seeds
We often get asked about fiber supplements, and we always say the same thing: we have no problem with fiber supplements, but it’s pretty easy to get fiber naturally from your diet. Not only are the foods that are highest in fiber easy to come by, they’re delicious! Feel free to take the supplemental route and add a dose of Metamucil to your day, but we much prefer a bowl of berries or a scoop of chia seeds in our morning smoothie.
What are the Differences Between the Different Types of Fiber?
There are two different types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, and there are a few differences between them.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material that slows down the body’s digestion of food. According to the Mayo Clinic: “Soluble fiber dissolves with water and creates a gel-like substance that helps to lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.” Soluble fiber is known to lower blood cholesterol, decrease your risk of heart disease, lower glucose levels, slow down digestion (making you feel full longer!), increase immunity, act as an inflammatory, and an increased intake in soluble fiber is linked to weight loss.
Insoluble fiber is the type of fiber typically referred to as “roughage.” The Mayo Clinic states: “Insoluble fiber absorbs water which adds bulk to your digestive tract and helps to move things through quickly.” This type of fiber does not dissolve in water, and isn’t broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream the way soluble fiber it. Insoluble fiber promotes movement of material through the digestive system, which can be particularly helpful for people who struggle with constipation.
Many plant-based foods contain both types of fiber, and both types of fiber are great for you!
What are the Benefits of Fiber?
Controls your blood sugar levels- When you eat foods high in fiber, your body absorbs sugar slower, preventing your blood glucose levels from rising too quickly.
Makes your intestines move faster, aids in constipation, and keeps you regular- Fiber absorbs water, which speeds up bowel movements and keeps your intestines working.
Helps prevent heart disease, diabetes, digestive problems, and weight gain- By helping control your blood sugar, normalizing your bowel movements, increasing your gut health, and aiding in lower caloric intake due to keeping you full longer, fiber prevents against these health issues.
Aids in weight loss- Some types of fiber slow the absorption of nutrients, allowing you to feel full longer, therefore consuming less calories throughout the day.
Lowers cholesterol- This benefit is somewhat contested, because it isn’t true in all cases, but heightened fiber intake has been linked to lowered blood cholesterol levels in multiple studies (like this one from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/69/1/30.full)
Promotes good gut health, bowel health & healthy gut bacteria- “Good” bacteria enzymes in the large intestine “feed” on fiber, whereas other types of food (protein, carbs, etc) are broken down before they reach your intestines, thereby increasing our number of good gut bacteria, which helps your overall health.
How Much Fiber Should I be Eating?
Like many important nutrients, Americans typically do not eat enough fiber in a day. If you’re a typical American, you’re probably consuming somewhere between 10 and 15 grams of fiber each day, which is way below the recommended amount! According to The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, men need between 30 and 38 grams of fiber per day, and women need between 21 and 25 grams per day. The exception to these guidelines is for women who are pregnant or nursing, who should consume 28 to 29 grams of fiber daily.