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The Importance of High Fiber Foods: A Guide to the Best Options

Improving fiber intake should be a top priority for many of us. But fiber doesn’t need to be a stir-in fiber supplement from the local drugstore. Many of the healthiest diets naturally include fiber – except the carnivore diet, of course. It’s just a matter of knowing which foods are high in fiber and when to include them. Here’s what you should know about high-fiber foods.

What is Dietary Fiber?

Dietary fiber is the part of plant foods that passes through the digestive system, more or less intact. It’s a carbohydrate in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Unlike other carbs, fiber doesn’t easily break down into sugar molecules. So, it doesn’t provide calories or energy to the body. There are two main types of fiber: Soluble and Insoluble.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel-like substance in the digestive tract. It’s known for helping to balance cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Examples of foods high in soluble fiber are oats, legumes, and root crops like carrots and sweet potatoes. You’ll also find it in certain fruits (apples, citrus, and strawberries) and cruciferous vegetables. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. Instead, it adds bulk to the stool. That extra bulk can aid in regular bowel movements and may ease constipation. Examples of foods high in insoluble fiber are whole grains, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and nuts. It’s also found in fruits, especially when eaten with the skins intact.

You’ll notice cruciferous vegetables have both soluble and insoluble fiber. One isn’t more important than the other. Including both types of fiber promotes a healthy digestive tract, ultimately affecting whole body health.

How Much Fiber Do We Really Need?

The recommended daily fiber intake varies by age and gender. But it generally falls between 25 and 38 grams daily for adults. Of course, individual needs may vary based on activity level and overall health. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends getting about 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories a day. Most Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diets. The modern emphasis on boxed and processed foods means we’re not getting enough whole foods. As a result, Americans are getting only about half the fiber they should. If you don’t want to be part of that statistic, be sure to increase your fiber gradually. You don’t want to get up one day and decide to eat a high-fiber diet. Your digestive system may not be ready for that. It’s also important to get enough water (away from meals) to help avoid digestive discomfort.

Health Benefits of a High-Fiber Diet

Better Digestive Health

Fiber can help prevent constipation by adding bulk to stools. The added bulk stimulates movement in the intestines, so it may promote regular bowel movements. Fiber can also act as a prebiotic, feeding beneficial gut bacteria. When the bacteria digest certain fibers, they produce what’s known as “postbiotics.” These short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) feed cells lining the large intestine. As a result, gut inflammation can go down, and motility may improve.

Improving motility in the gut may lower the risk of colon cancer.

Potentially Avoid Colon Cancer

Improving motility in the gut may also help you avoid colon cancer. A large prospective study of over 75,000 participants looked at fiber and cancer risk. Higher fiber intake from foods was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.

Improve Heart Health

Increasing your fiber intake may protect against heart disease. Research shows as insoluble fiber increases, blood pressure and triglyceride levels decrease. A lower fiber intake is also associated with higher insulin levels. It’s no wonder high-fiber cereals are advertised as “heart-healthy.” Whether they truly are is the subject of another blog post.

Blood Sugar Balance

Soluble fiber can slow down… (content continues)

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