Eating more fiber in your diet can help you feel more full, control blood sugar and cholesterol, and help you take in fewer calories and lose weight. Most Americans don’t eat enough fiber, only taking in about half as much as they should. Nutritionists call this the “fiber gap.” While eating more fiber isn’t a magic bullet, eating fewer processed foods and more leafy vegetables, whole grains and other fiber sources will help you feel better and can complement a weight loss walking routine.
We’ll cover what fiber is and its health benefits along with some fiber-packed foods that make great additions to your eating plan.
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What is dietary fiber?
What we call fiber or dietary fiber is parts of plant foods that cannot be digested by the body. While technically a carbohydrate, fiber isn’t digested like other carbs, fats or protein and passes through your digestive system intact. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t important, however. Fiber helps keep you regular, while also helping you feel more full as it takes up space in your stomach but can’t be digested. There are actually two types of fiber – soluble (which can dissolve in water creating a gel) and insoluble (which doesn’t dissolve). Soluble fiber helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, while insoluble fiber helps keep you regular.
Benefits of eating more fiber
Benefits of fiber include:
Easier weight loss
Bowel health + stay regular
Fiber helps keep food moving through your digestive system. Studies seem to indicate high-fiber diets help reduce your risk of certain bowel diseases. It’s unclear exactly how fiber does this, but it may help you excrete food products faster so they don’t linger.
Stabilize blood sugar + lower blood pressure
Soluble fiber can slow down digestion, which can help control blood sugar spikes after eating. It’s not completely clear how it achieves the effect of lowering blood pressure. Some theories include fiber preventing digestion of fats and sugars as well as fiber potentially helping to nurture good bacteria in your digestive system.
Fibers are also key factors for total gastrointestinal health. Scientists are just starting to scratch the surface on how gut health connects to total body health, including brain health. Fiber also slows down how fast we absorb sugar, which keeps our blood sugars balanced.
How to add more fiber to your diet
Choosing unprocessed foods to eat is by far the easiest way to start adding more fiber to your diet, and eat healthier all around. The fiber in processed foods is often removed during processing, and most come with a host of unhealthy additives, such as MSG and nitrates.
Vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are the essential sources of fiber in everyday foods. It’s also not necessary to eat vegetables raw, as the body tends to absorb the nutrients of foods better when they’re cooked. You can usually find easy ways to add in more fiber to almost any type of eating plan you may be on.
While whole grain bread or cereal often don’t have significantly fewer calories than non-whole grain versions, the added fiber is good for your health and can help you feel full longer. When checking the nutrition labels on foods, look for items with some amount of fiber. Less processed foods that don’t contain unknown natural flavorings and words you don’t know or can’t pronounce are usually better for you as well.
Once you’ve gotten a good handle on eating more natural and healthy foods, start making a conscious decision and effort to slowly incorporate specific foods into your diet that are high in fiber.
High Fiber Foods:
High Fiber Fruits:
Note: All of these fruits taste fantastic in yogurt and oatmeal!
High Fiber Vegetables:
- Broccoli: Goes great in stir-fry, or try boiling with wheat pasta.
- Peas: Frozen peas make an excellent cold salad dish in the summer!
- Carrots: Add them to just about any soup, or shave raw carrots up to easily add (and digest) in salads and cold dishes.
- Spinach: Did someone say homemade spinach dip with herbs (not a spice packet)?
- Potato (skins): While the “meat” of a potato contains little fiber, the skin contains the highest amount of fiber in the potato. Try eating potatoes skin on for more fiber. That being said, mashed potatoes are not a high fiber food!
High Fiber Grains
- Oats: From homemade granola to a simple bowl, add other healthy ingredients, like honey, nuts, and seeds.
- Rye, Pumpernickel, and other Breads: Read bread labels. Breads high in fiber will have at least five grams of fiber per slice.
- Brown or Wild Rice
- Beans & Lentils: All kinds of beans and lentils are high in fiber, but navy and white beans have the highest amounts of fiber.
- Popcorn: Air popped natural popcorn, and stay away from microwave popcorn that contains unhealthy additives and ingredients.
High Fiber Nuts & Seeds
- Chia Seeds: These seeds pack a whopping 10 grams of fiber per ounce, which is about as high in fiber as you can get! Plus, the seeds are super tiny and have little to no taste, so you can add them to just about anything!
- Flax Seeds: These seeds have almost 8 grams of fiber per ounce, and they can also be easily added to most dishes!
- Pumpkin Seeds
Be aware that nuts and seeds are very calorically dense, and often have high calorie counts for small serving sizes. They’re packed with nutrition, but do understand proper serving sizes!
Sustainable Weight Loss
Adding more fiber to your diet should be viewed as a lifestyle change that comes with many benefits, including slow weight loss that lasts.
Eating healthy and exercising go hand-in-hand. That’s because going on a fad diet, as if it’s a separate thing from healthy living, just doesn’t work. There will always be food temptations with events, holidays, and gatherings. Knowing how to make and consistently making healthy food choices, and continuing to stay physically active, is what makes weight loss sustainable.
Eating something unhealthy isn’t something you should beat yourself up about. Long-term health and weight loss involves everything you ate last month and all the exercise you did last month, as much as it’s about everything you will eat and do in the next month. Eating desserts or snacks that are high in fiber is probably better than the same type of snack without any fiber. They’re almost certainly better than salty, carb-heavy snacks or high fat cookies that you can easily scarf down.
Your diet is your diet, and your healthy lifestyle is yours to create, every day.
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