Compared to vitamins, healthy fats, and protein, dietary fiber doesn’t get a whole lot of love. But it should. It’s a powerhouse nutrient, and adopting a high-fiber diet can yield incredible benefits for your overall health.
At minimum, increasing your dietary fiber consumption helps keep your body functioning smoothly. But high-fiber diets have also been linked to improved heart health, proper gastrointestinal function, and even healthier blood sugar levels.
Read on to learn why you should get more familiar with dietary fiber, and how you can boost your daily fiber intake.
What Is Dietary Fiber?
Before we dive into the benefits of a high-fiber diet, let’s get clear on what exactly dietary fiber is. Krista Maguire, R.D., C.S.S.D., and Openfit nutrition manager, says, “Fiber is basically indigestible carbohydrates found in plant foods.”
Soluble vs. insoluble fiber
There are two main types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. “Depending on the type of fiber, it can either provide bulk to your stool (insoluble fiber) and thus help keep you regular,” Maguire explains, “or it can absorb water and form a gel (soluble fiber), and thus trap waste to help remove it from the body. Soluble fiber has also been shown to help lower cholesterol.”
It’s important to consume foods that contain both insoluble and soluble fiber, says Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area.
How much fiber should you consume?
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommended intake for fiber is 14 grams per 1,000 calories, or 38 grams a day for men and 25 grams a day for women. “However, we’re meeting only about half of that [on average],” says Maguire.
Why Is Fiber Important?
Consuming the right amount of dietary fiber is important for ensuring gastrointestinal health, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar composition so you don’t get “hangry,” Gorin says.
Dietary fiber also aids in digestion and helps keep you regular, Maguire says. There’s even some research to suggest that certain fermentable fibers can act as prebiotics, or “the ‘food’ that fuels healthy gut bacteria,” she explains.
The perks of a high-fiber diet may also extend to weight loss and maintenance. That’s because eating fiber promotes fullness, Gorin says, which can help keep you from overeating. “Foods that are naturally higher in fiber, such as vegetables, tend to be lower in calories but high in volume, helping to keep you satiated,” she explains.
A good example is raw spinach, which has just seven calories and nearly one gram of fiber per cup. Blending a couple handfuls of raw spinach into a smoothie adds bulk, so you can satisfy your hunger without racking up calories.
What Happens if You Consume Too Much Fiber?
Thankfully, overdoing it on dietary fiber isn’t something most people have to worry about. Still, it is possible to consume more fiber than your body is prepared for, and suffer uncomfortable digestive consequences as a result.
“If you’re not used to eating a lot of high-fiber foods and then all of a sudden start to consume a high-fiber diet, you could experience gastrointestinal discomfort, gas, bloating, and possibly diarrhea,” Maguire says. Constipation is also an issue if you’re not drinking enough water, she adds.
To avoid any discomfort, introduce fiber gradually so your body can adapt, Maguire suggests.
And make sure you stay hydrated to keep everything moving. As a general rule, divide your body weight in pounds by 2 and drink that amount in ounces of water each day.
The Best Fiber Foods to Eat
Eating a high-fiber diet doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by incorporating more plant-based foods into your meals, Maguire says. That means doubling down on fruits and veggies like bananas, pears, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
You can also boost your dietary fiber intake by replacing half the refined carbs you typically consume — like white rice and white bread — with whole grain alternatives, like brown rice or whole-wheat bread.
Other good sources of fiber include legumes and pulses. “Beans such as chickpeas offer a winning combination of soluble and insoluble fiber,” says Gorin. They get bonus points for their affordability and versatility in the kitchen.
Need more inspiration? Here are some sources of fiber for a rounded diet.
- Oranges: 1 medium orange contains 3.5 grams of fiber
- Apples: 1 medium apple contains 4.5 grams of fiber
- Bananas: 1 medium banana contains 3.0 grams of fiber
- Pears: 1 medium pear contains 5.5 grams of fiber
- Raspberries/blackberries: ½ cup contains 4 grams of fiber
- Pomegranate seeds: ½ cup contains 3.5 grams of fiber
- Avocado: 1 medium avocado contains 13.5 grams of fiber
- Parsnips: 1 cup, sliced, contains 6.5 of fiber
- Broccoli: 2 cups, chopped, contain 5 grams of fiber
- Brussels sprouts: 1 cup contains 4 grams of fiber
- Sweet potato: 1 medium potato contains 4 grams of fiber
- Artichoke: 1 medium, cooked, contains 7 grams of fiber
- Carrots: 1 cup, chopped, contains 3.5 grams of fiber
- Lentils: ½ cup, cooked, contains 8 grams of fiber
- Chickpeas: ½ cup, canned, contains 6 grams of fiber
- Navy beans: ½ cup, cooked, contains 9.5 grams of fiber
- Black beans: ½ cup, cooked, contains 7.5 grams of fiber
- Kidney beans: ½ cup, cooked, contains 6.5 grams of fiber
- Pinto beans: ½ cup, cooked, contains approx. 7.5 grams of fiber
- Split peas: ½ cup, cooked, contains 8 grams of fiber
- Oats: ½ cup, cooked, contains 2 grams of fiber
- Quinoa: ½ cup, cooked, contains 2.5 grams of fiber
- Bran flakes: ½ cup contains 5.5 grams of fiber
- Whole-grain pasta: 1 cup contains 4.5 grams of fiber
- Pearled barley: ½ cup, cooked, contains 3 grams of fiber
Nuts and Seeds
- Chia seeds: 1 tbsp contains 4 grams of fiber
- Almonds: 1 ounce (about 23 almonds) contains 3.5 grams of fiber
- Flaxseed: 1 tbsp, ground, contains 2 grams of fiber
- Pumpkin seeds: 1 ounce, whole and roasted, contains 5 grams of fiber