Everyone knows about the importance of protein, and it seems like folks everywhere are counting carbs (or at least are acutely aware of their existence). But what about fiber? This oft-forgotten nutrient and the positive impact it has on our health deserves recognition, too!
Why is fiber so important?
First of all, you should know what it is – it’s actually a carbohydrate (gasp!) found in plant foods. But unlike other starches, fiber is not easily digested by the body; it creates a bulky substance in the digestive tract, often referred to as “roughage.”
This bulkiness helps our bodies in a few ways: it contributes to a feeling of fullness (which may lead you to eat less) and helps slow digestion to prevent sharp spikes in blood glucose, especially important in those with diabetes. In addition, fiber contributes to heart health by supporting healthy cholesterol levels within normal range and lastly (but certainly not least), fiber helps push food through your digestive system, supporting healthy bowel function. (Related reading: Is a high-fiber diet the key to regularity?)
What foods are high in fiber?
Here’s some good news: fiber is often found in foods that are packed with other nutrients! Although it can be found in many foods, these 5 sources have higher amounts of fiber compared to other foods.
All fruits contain fiber as well as lots of different nutrients; particularly high fiber fruits include mango, guava, raspberries, apples and pears. Love avocados? You’ll be happy to know that just one half of a medium avocado delivers 5 grams of fiber!
Tip: By eating whole fruits (when possible), you will consume more fiber than if you ate their processed counter parts. For example, a medium sized apple contains approximately 3-4 grams of fiber, whereas apple juice contains 0 grams of fiber.
Vegetables are an excellent source of fiber and are often low in total calories. High-fiber veggies include artichokes, carrots, beets, broccoli and Swiss chard.
Tip: If you’re into juicing, be sure to reserve the pulp that’s left behind (that’s where the fiber is!), and either toss it back into your juice and blend a little extra, or use it in cooking, such as in broths or soups.
Whole grains are grains in their original form. To be sure a product is a whole grain, check the first ingredient. If you see the word “whole” then you are on the right track (whole grain oats, whole grain wheat, etc.); quinoa, buckwheat, millet and teff are whole grains, too. Try and find products with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Benefits of whole grains (beyond their fiber content, of course) include supporting heart health and providing plenty of B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium. Want to incorporate more into your diet? Read about the best whole grain foods and snacks that are dietitian-approved!
Beans & lentils
Beans and lentils are a great option for adding fiber to your diet. Add beans and lentils to chili and salads, or even use as a meat substitute. Lentil loafs and bean soups provide a lot of fiber as well as protein for your meal, and they’re a delicious lunch or dinner option for vegans, vegetarians or anyone trying to eat less meat!
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds provide natural fiber while also being a good source of healthy fats. Be sure to watch portion sizes, as it’s easy to overeat on these tiny foods. Combine nuts and seeds to make a healthy trail mix or eat a handful of nuts or seeds with a piece of whole fruit for a nutritious, fiber-filled snack.
Things to know about fiber
When increasing your daily fiber intake, it is important to remember to drink adequate amounts of water. Water will help fiber do its job more efficiently and help prevent any potential side effects of increased fiber intake, such as constipation. The daily recommended intake for fiber is between 25-38 grams per day. Increase your intake of the delicious foods mentioned above and you will be full with fiber in no time!