Sources of Fiber in Our Diet
Fiber is a complex carbohydrate with minimal to no calories. This carbohydrate is relevant to our diet even though we cannot digest it. Undigested fiber is broken down or fermented by the millions of tiny microbes that live in our gut, the microbiome, which uses fiber for food. These bacteria have the enzymes to break down fiber that promotes the growth of the “good bacteria” in our gut. The fiber we eat becomes food, or prebiotics, for our microbiome.
Why do we need fiber???
There are numerous benefits of fiber. Reasons to include it in our diet are below:
Promotes the preferred bacteria in our gut microbiome - the primary contributor to which species of bacteria grow in our gut depends on fiber in our diet.
The microbiome bacteria convert fiber into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are absorbed and provide us with energy.
Can lower LDL cholesterol.
Promotes feelings of fullness or satiety that can help you eat less.
Improves constipation by drawing water into the lower gut making stools easier to pass.
Promotes stable blood sugar and insulin levels by slowing digestion of food, avoiding blood sugar spikes.
Decreases risk of cardiovascular disease.
Decreases risk of type II diabetes.
Decreases risk of colorectal cancer.
Fiber-rich foods also contain other nutrients (vitamins and minerals) beneficial to our health.
How much do we need???
Adults need 25-35 grams of fiber daily.
Children need their age + 5 grams. Add 5 to the child’s age to equal the grams they need daily. For example, a child of 5 needs 10 grams, and a child of 10 needs 15 grams.
How do we get it???
Plant-based foods are the richest sources of fiber - whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts - due to components such as cellulose, hemicellulose, pectins, and lignins that occur naturally in these plants.
I advocate you eat fiber-rich foods rather than take fiber as a supplement since you also receive other nutrients from these foods.
Healthy Foods High in Fiber
Ways to increase fiber daily include the following ten suggestions:
Swap out white rice and pasta for brown rice and whole-grain pasta varieties.
Eat whole-grain or whole wheat bread and crackers rather than white bread.
Add chopped or shredded vegetables to sauces (such as lasagna or spaghetti sauce) and cooked eggs.
Eat fruit as a snack and for dessert.
Substitute beans or legumes for meat in soups, casseroles, and sauces.
Choose whole-grain, high-fiber cereals or oatmeal.
Substitute whole fruit for fruit juice.
Add seeds or nuts to salads, yogurt, and meals.*
Snack on raw vegetables with hummus, cottage cheese, or nut butter.
Try a new variety of grains such as quinoa, barley, farro, wheat berries, and amaranth.
*Very young children (under 4 years) should not eat nuts as they are a choking hazard as are hard, raw vegetables.
Grains, Beans, and Legumes are Great Fiber Sources
Too much fiber too quickly can lead to gas, bloating, loose stools, or constipation. When increasing fiber, do so gradually, adding 5 grams a week until you reach the desired amount, less for children, depending on the age.
While increasing fiber intake, also increase water intake to aid digestion and prevent “backing up.” Drink at least 12 to 16 ounces of water for every 5 grams of fiber.
Beans and Legumes, especially split peas, black beans, lentils, and edamame
Whole grains - barley, quinoa, oats, bran flakes, whole wheat pasta
Berries - raspberries and blackberries highest
Pears and apples
ANY fruit, vegetable, beans, legumes, and whole grains will significantly increase your fiber intake. Search the wealth of recipes online to find new and delicious ways to prepare these healthy foods. Your gut will thank you!