Fiber is a plant-based substance that humans cannot digest. Even though it passes through our digestive systems without providing any nutrients, it is a critical component of a healthy diet.
Dietary fiber has been shown to benefit us in many ways, such as:
- normalize bowel movements
- maintain bowel and colon health
- lower cholesterol and blood pressure
- helps control blood sugar
- aids in weight loss
- lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and all cancers.
Types of Fiber
Dissolves in water and makes a gel-like substance that helps lower blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels—foods high in soluble fiber: apples, avocado, carrots, citrus fruit, squash.
Does not dissolve. Instead, ithelps move food through our digestive tract—foods high in soluble fiber: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, dark green leafy vegetables.
Which is better? BOTH! This is good to know since most nutritional information does not provide a breakdown of the two. Each is essential to our diets—another reason to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
How much do you need? A general rule of thumb is at least 14 grams per 1000 calories consumers. A person eating a 2000 calorie a day diet should have at least 28 grams of dietary fiber.
Whole Foods versus Highly Processed
Raw plant products contain the most fiber. Think whole grains (oats, wheat, barley), legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruit.
The simple act of cooking can alter the structure of some of the naturally occurring fiber. However, it is still able to do its job of providing health benefits to our bodies. The less you cook it, the more fiber is retained.
Peeling fruits and vegetables removes a significant amount of fiber. Juicing them removes almost all of the fiber. Grinding wheat into all-purpose flour removes the outer bran layer, which eliminates nearly all of the fiber.
The more processed a food product is, the more fiber and other nutrients are lost. Some products will add fiber back in, but they are more apt to cause gassiness and discomfort than naturally occurring fiber.
Tips to Increase Fiber in Your Diet
Besides the obvious advice to avoid overly processed foods, here are a few more tips to increase your fiber intake:
- Eat more whole grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables, and fruit.
- cook produce as little as possible
- Scrub produce to remove dirt but leave the peels on.
- Choose whole fruits and vegetables over juices
- Drink plenty of water to work with the fiber.