Are you getting enough fiber? Chances are, you are not. National consumption surveys indicate that only 5% of Americans meet their daily recommended grams of fiber. And even if you understand the benefits of fiber in your diet, you may not know how much is ideal for you each day, or which foods are the best sources.
Fiber is the nutrient with superpowers you need more of starting today
Fiber covers all the bases for good health. It helps you maintain a healthy digestive system, supports heart health, helps to lower the risk of diabetes as well as certain cancers, is key to an optimal gut microbiome, and aids weight management. There are two types of fiber we can get from food, and we need both types: soluble and insoluble. Here we break down both types of dietary fiber, why they are important and how you can get them in your diet.
The 6 superpowers of fiber
- Fiber supports heart health by lowering our LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. Soluble fiber is the cholesterol-lowering kind. Soluble fiber is found in oats, barley, nuts, seeds, peas, apples, legumes, psyllium and others as well. During the normal digestive process, fiber from food binds with cholesterol in our bloodstream and exits the body in feces. Think of soluble fiber as a little Magic Eraser cleaning up the cholesterol inside our bodies.
- Insoluble fiber helps us reach satiety (feeling full) and in turn can aid in managing weight. Insoluble fiber can be found in foods such as avocado, wheat bran, legumes, nuts and most all fruits and vegetables. It adds “bulk” to our food and essentially helps fill you up. Picture the fibrous insides of an orange versus just the juice part. That’s the “bulk.” When we are feeling fuller and more satiated, we are less likely to eat more than we need, which can decrease weight gain.
- Fiber aids in our regular digestion & promotes happy gut bacteria. Foods high in insoluble fiber help us maintain a regular poop schedule and consistency, fighting constipation. That same bulk we talked about above also helps add substance to our stool. The gut microbiota, or the tiny, microscopic world of bacteria that lives in our intestines, is also very happy when the good bacteria (known as probiotics) are fed lots of fiber (which contain prebiotics). So, by consuming fiber in our diet, we are also helping to feed the “good bugs” in our gut.
- Fiber lowers our risk of type 2 diabetes and balances blood sugar levels. Fiber-rich carbohydrate foods are digested “slower” than low fiber or refined carbohydrates and therefore do not promote the big “spike and fall” in glucose levels. When we are eating a high fiber diet (at least 25 grams per day), we support normal glycemic response, more optimal blood sugar levels and a lower risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Fiber-rich foods give us energy from healthy carbohydrates (and we need these good carbs!). Carbs have gotten a bad rap over time but not all carbs are created equal. We need complex (I.e., high fiber) carbohydrates for sustainable energy, and these are the fiber-rich type, found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains and beans. When our intake is very low in carbohydrates it can be difficult to get enough dietary fiber which can in turn be related to low energy levels and constipation.
- Fiber-rich foods also contain BONUS nutrients. It just so happens you get a lot of “bang for your buck” when it comes to foods high in fiber – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and even nuts and seeds also have anti-inflammatory properties and contain bonus micronutrients like vitamins and minerals.
So, can’t I just take a fiber supplement?
Taking a fiber supplement may seem like an easy way to hit that minimum daily fiber goal of 25 grams, but eating your fiber from whole foods provides a greater benefit for overall health due to the other nutrients from the food itself (see superpower #6 above). Fiber is best utilized by the body when we consume it via whole foods. Fiber-rich whole foods are typically easier to digest than a fiber supplement, which can result in abdominal bloating and gas for some people. Be mindful that the supplement ingredients greatly vary from one supplement to another, and most supplements are a combo of soluble and insoluble fiber coming from psyllium husks, inulin, acacia, apple or even guar gum. For most there is little harm in taking fiber supplements, typically in a powder form, but these are best used as a supplement, not a replacement for fiber-rich foods.
If you use a fiber supplement, here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- It’s worth repeating, ideally the majority of fiber will come from whole foods. And if needed, a few extra grams can be gained from a powder.
- Be sure to drink plenty of water or unsweetened fluids so that the fiber doesn’t become constipating. Fiber can promote regularity and more frequent bowel movements, but too much too quickly can also result in the opposite.
- Start slow. It may be tempting to sprinkle fiber powder into every meal, dump tons into your smoothie or really load up on high fiber foods, but gradually reaching the 25 grams minimum goal is recommended to prevent gastrointestinal issues.
Gennev dietitians frequently recommend the following products to their patients who are seeking to supplement some of their daily fiber:*
Try a Fiber Flax Shot
Another idea for a “natural” fiber supplement is a Fiber Flax shot (bonus phytoestrogen with the flaxseed)! Simply take 1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed (also called flax meal) and mix this into a few ounces of water. Give it a stir and toss it back. 3 grams of fiber down the hatch!
How do I get enough fiber?
We know the goal of 25 grams of dietary fiber per day may sound tough, but it IS possible to reach with a little effort. Try these quick and easy ways to boost fiber in any meal:
- Sprinkle 1/2 Tablespoon chia seeds to your yogurt (3 grams)
- Add 1 cup of blueberries or raspberries on the side with your eggs (4 grams)
- Spread ½ a small avocado to whole grain toast (10 grams)
- Add ¼ cup almonds to 1 cup cooked oatmeal (9 grams)
- Add 1 pear or apple (with skin) to your meal (7 grams)
- Toss ½ cup cooked black beans to a taco salad (8 grams)
- Swap white bread for whole grain in a full sandwich (8 grams)
- Swap ground meat for lentils or beans in chili (7 grams)
- Try a serving of whole grain crackers with hummus or cheese instead of chips or refined grain crackers (3 grams)
- Enjoy an apple (with skin) and 1 Tablespoon almond butter (10 grams)
- Swap potato chips for 3 cups popcorn (4 grams)
- Swap 1 cup cooked white rice with brown rice (4 grams)
- Eat the skin of your small baked potato (5 grams)
- Add 2 cups mixed roasted broccoli, cauliflower and carrots (8 grams)
- Swap out burger night with a bean patty (4 grams)
Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are experts in helping their patients analyze their nutrition intake, fiber included. And when you make some key lifestyle choices in menopause, it can have a lasting effect on your health as well as provide symptom relief. Gennev’s integrated care provides patients access to experts in menopause lifestyle change management. We help women thrive in menopause through prescription and natural remedies, nutrition, fitness and mindfulness practices. Schedule a one-on-one virtual visit to create your personal wellness plan.
*Gennev is not affiliated with and does not profit from any mention or sale of these products.
The information on the Gennev site is never meant to replace the care of a qualified medical professional. Hormonal shifts throughout menopause can prompt a lot of changes in your body, and simply assuming something is “just menopause” can leave you vulnerable to other possible causes. Always consult with your physician or schedule an appointment with one of Gennev's telemedicine doctors before beginning any new treatment or therapy.