It’s not a sexy topic, but we do certainly hear a lot about fiber these days. Maybe it’s because gut health is hot in the health world — or because your favorite smoothie from the juice shop down the street boasts 5 grams. Or, perhaps because it is just that important.
If you add one thing to your diet, make it fiber. It has a place in your life — right next to your new mobile phone. Fiber is a super important part of a healthy diet, at all stages and ages.
There’s no better time to start chowing down on it than right now. And, if you have kids, they need it to.
Fiber keeps our hearts healthy and yep, our bowels movin’ like Beyonce’s hips.
What exactly is fiber?
Dietary fiber is the part of plant foods that your body cannot digest. There are two types: the kind that doesn’t dissolve in water (insoluble fiber) and the kind that does (soluble fiber).
Soluble fiber soaks up water like a sponge and turns into a gel-like consistency during digestion; it slows the process of digestion and helps your body absorb nutrients.
This is why you feel full for a longer period of time after eating a high-fiber meal like oatmeal topped with chopped nuts, versus a fiber-less one like frosted flakes and milk.
Are you scratching your head and saying, “ah ha…” right now?
Soluble fiber also helps to lower blood cholesterol and manage blood sugar levels.
Most soluble fiber also are known as prebiotics. Prebiotics feed the healthy bacteria of your gut. Yes, you still need to get your probiotics in too.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, helps to speed up the rate at which foods go through the body and bulks up your poop. I know, not so appetizing sounding, but hey, we all know how we feel when we don’t “go”.
A healthy diet rich in insoluble fiber is often touted as a best way to lose or maintain a healthy weight, prevent constipation and reduce the risk of colon cancer.
How much is enough?
I like you to eat food and not numbers.
Men need about 30 to 38 grams per day. Women need about 21 to 25 grams.
If your food has a label, you can check out the amount of fiber listed and add up your daily intake fairly easily. However, many of the best places to get fiber come from healthy foods without labels such as fruits such as apples, pears, berries and oranges and veggies such as broccoli rabe, red peppers and sweet potato.
And, don’t forget about legumes and nuts and seeds.
5 Ways to Get your Fiber On
- Craving crunch? Skip the chips and grab jicama, carrots, or peppers or go for nuts or seeds; just don’t go too nuts! Stick to about 1 ounce as the calories in nuts can add up quickly.
- Get grainy! A simple switch from “white carbs” to whole grains will increase your daily intake of fiber. Switch from white bread to whole grain bread, white pasta to whole wheat, shoot for brown rice in place of white rice, or be take it up another notch and try spelt, farro or wheat berries.
- An apple a day, does what? Keeps the constipation away. Apples are a great source of fiber, as are pears and figs. That’s right, simply adding more produce to your diet is a great way to up your fiber intake. Be sure to get in whole fruits and veggies even if you are a juicer because remember most of the fiber is in the skin.
- Snap, crackle, POP. Instead of reaching for a bag of pretzels when a snack craving hits, opt for some air-popped popcorn instead, another great source of fiber. I love to top mine with cinnamon or cayenne. YUM.
- Beans, beans, they’re good for your…We can all learn a little something from the old, playful rhyme! Beans, peas, and lentils all have an impressive batch of fiber, despite their, ahem, gaseous side effects. Try a bowl of bean soup with a side salad for lunch.
Keri Glassman, R.D. is a TODAY Tastemaker. She is the founder of Nutritious Life