OK, Exactly What Has Fiber Done For Me Lately?
Ever wonder why everyone is always telling you to eat your veggies? Short answer: It’s the fiber.
Sure vegetables are packed with all kinds of beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are important to your overall health. But fiber is really where it’s at. The fiber in vegetables and other plant-based foods provides a big nutrition bang for your buck (er, bite). Here’s why it’s so important.
Why do we need fiber for health?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that you can’t digest. So, even though you don’t absorb any nutrients from fiber, it still does plenty of helpful things as it makes its way through your body.
There are a few ways to classify types of fiber, but perhaps the easiest way to understand is by splitting fiber into two groups: soluble and insoluble. They are both important and good for you.
Think of soluble fibers as the food you are feeding to the good bacteria that live in your gut. Those bacteria use these sources of fiber by fermenting them (breaking them down for fuel). The more and varied types of soluble fiber they receive, the more your good gut bacteria can thrive and build up an army that
- helps breakdown other foods, making digestion easier and the nutrients in foods more available for your body to absorb
- produces acids that stop the growth of harmful bacteria and build your immunity, keeping you healthy
- slows down and sometimes blocks the absorption of fats, sugars, and cholesterol from foods into your bloodstream, helping to lower blood sugar, blood lipids, and LDL cholesterol
Soluble fibers are found in high amounts in beans, oats, sweet potatoes, carrots, nuts and seeds, avocados, apples, nectarines and apricots, figs, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
Now, think of insoluble fibers as transporters. They do all those things you think about when you hear the word fiber (aka they improve your digestion by binding to other digested particles, making your stools softer and easier to pass). You can thank insoluble fiber for
- helping to manage food cravings by giving you a satisfied feeling after a meal and sending signals to your brain that you’ve eaten enough
- making you “regular,” which helps prevent digestion troubles, such as constipation, bloating, and cramping
- lowering the risk of digestion-related diseases, such as diverticulitis and colorectal cancer, and some studies have linked diets high in insoluble fibers to lower risk of autoimmune-neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis
Insoluble fibers are found in high amounts in whole grains, root vegetables, cauliflower, leafy greens, and fruits and nuts with the skins still on.
Many healthy foods are fiber heroes, containing both soluble and insoluble fiber. Since it’s full of a variety of nutritious plant-based foods, Otamot contains 4 to 6 grams of fiber per ½ cup of sauce, which is both naturally occurring soluble and insoluble fiber.
6 easy ways to get more fiber
Back to that recommendation to Eat Your Veggies (and your whole grains, beans, nuts, and fruits)! The reason it’s so important to do so, and why you’re always hearing that advice from parents and nutritionists like me, is because nearly everyone living in America doesn’t get enough of those foods. And because of that, we’re not getting enough fiber either.
In fact, we’re getting about half as much as we need (15 grams is the current daily average versus the recommended 25 to 38 grams of fiber we should be getting). But getting fiber doesn’t have to be a drag. Lucky for us, it shows up in many delicious foods you may not be aware of. Here are some easy ways to get more fiber in each day:
- Put avocado on everything. Not only does creamy avocado make a delicious and pretty topping for soups, salads, and all the things, it also gives you healthy monounsaturated fats and 5 grams of fiber in every half of an avocado.
- Plan a power bowl for dinner this week. Just top rice (or cauli rice, lettuce, quinoa, or pasta) with roasted veggies, sauce, avocado, nuts or any leftovers or crunchy toppings you have around. Clean the fridge and get some bonus fiber!
- Snack on fruit, especially fruit with the skins still on or with visible seeds, such as apples and pears, strawberries and raspberries, and apricots and nectarines (bananas and citrus are high in fiber, too).
- Mix some GORP (i.e. Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts) for a high-fiber, portable snack that packs a fiber punch.
- Make popcorn! Though popcorn may not come to mind when you think of whole grains, it is one. Just 4 large handfuls (that’s 3ish cups, depending on your grab) of air-popped popcorn provides 4 grams of good-for-you fiber.
- Eat more Otamot! That’s right. Since Otamot is made from 10 organic vegetables, it contains more fiber than any other pasta sauce, giving you 6 grams of fiber in every ½ cup of essential sauce.
With all these options, getting plenty of important fiber each day can be both easy and delicious.
Jessie Shafer is a registered dietitian-nutritionist, team member at The Real Food Dietitians, former magazine editor, and busy mom of two who loves to remind people to eat more fiber foods.