We all need to eat a balanced diet to ensure good health, but one nutrient many of us are not getting enough of is dietary fiber. In this article, you will find out:
- What dietary fiber is.
- Why dietary fiber is essential for good health
- The health benefits of including dietary fiber foods in your diet
- Different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble
- Do dietary fiber foods contribute to your carbohydrate intake?
What is Dietary Fiber, and Why Does it Matter
Dietary fiber is a plant-based nutrient that refers to the indigestible parts of a plant. You will often hear the terms roughage, bulk, or insoluble fiber mentioned when talking about dietary fiber. Unlike other nutritional components of food like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, dietary fibers pass through the digestive tract relatively unaltered by the digestive process.
So, if dietary fiber goes in one and out the other without change, why is it so important for health? While it does not add anything nutritionally to the body, it performs essential roles in nutrition and health.
Insoluble fiber assists with the movement of solids through the digestive tract to help prevent constipation and assist with passing stools. However, there are many more health benefits to adding more dietary fiber foods to your diet if you are not getting enough.
What is the Difference Between Fiber and Dietary Fiber?
When talking about dietary fiber foods, we are not referring to the types of fibers used to make apparel. There are compounds in our food the digestive system cannot break down into smaller units.
These fibers are also referred to as tough fibers, but there are also water-soluble fibers in food, such as gums, pectin, and mucilage. Both types of fibers are considered dietary fibers.
According to the Institute of Medicine, women should consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day, while men need around 35 grams per day.
How is Dietary Fiber Beneficial to Health?
Dietary fiber foods have many vital roles in the body. These are a few of the benefits you will enjoy when you eat a balanced diet that includes higher amounts of dietary fiber.
Assists with longevity – Research indicates that people who consume adequate amounts of dietary fiber foods can reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer. [*1]
Helps maintain a healthy weight – A meal that is high in dietary fiber will give you a feeling of fullness and keep you satisfied for longer than a meal that is low in fiber. High fiber foods are generally less energy-dense than low-calorie foods, meaning you will consume far fewer calories for the same volume of food.
Reduce cholesterol levels – Dietary fiber in beans, flaxseed, oat bran, and hazelnuts helps to lower blood cholesterol levels by reducing low-density lipoprotein (LPL or “bad” cholesterol). High fiber diets may also assist with lowering blood pressure and inflammation. [*2]
Helps control blood sugar levels – Research indicates that cereal fiber, which is the most consumed dietary fiber, may assist in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes more than the fiber consumed in fruits and vegetables. In addition, soluble fiber can slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. [*3]
Promotes bowel health – Diets high in dietary fiber foods may lower the risk of hemorrhoids or diverticular diseases (small pouches in the colon). Research also indicates that high-fiber diets reduce the chance of colorectal cancer.
Help keep your bowel movements regular – Insoluble dietary fiber adds bulk and weight to your stools. Bulkier stools are easier to pass and reduce the chance of constipation. People with soft, watery stools will benefit from more fiber because it absorbs water and adds bulk.
Is Dietary Fiber Soluble or Insoluble?
Fiber is divided into two categories: soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fibers include pectin, gum, and mucilage. These compounds dissolve in water and turn into a gel-like substance in the body.
Insoluble fibers are cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose. These fiber types don’t dissolve in water and will mostly retain their form when moving through the digestive tract.
7 Ways You Can Add More Fiber to Your Menu
If you want to know how to add dietary fiber foods to your menu, it’s not at all difficult. Here are a few tips to help you get started on a high-fiber diet.
1. Start Your Day with a Cereal Breakfast
Start your morning with wholegrain unsweetened cereals containing at least 4g of fiber per serving.
Do this every morning, and you will improve your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels.
2. Two Apples a Day
If one apple can keep the doctor away, then two must be even better? We’re sure that everybody should make a habit of a regular health checkup regardless of the number of apples you eat.
However, apples contain pectin, which helps with feeling full, but it also digests slowly to give you a slow burn for sustained energy. New research indicates that consuming pectin-rich foods will help reduce your overall calorie intake [*3].
An average unpeeled apple contains around 4 grams of fiber, while peeled apples contain more than 2 grams.
3. Eat More Beans
A ½ cup of beans contains 7 grams of fiber. Most beans will do – try white beans, black beans, chickpeas, fava beans, kidney beans, pintos, and red beans.
4. Snack on Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are tasty and convenient dietary fiber foods you can add to your menu. Seeds such as sesame, flax, and chia contain between 14g to 37g of fiber per 100g serving. Nuts such as pecans, hazelnuts, and pistachios contain 10g to 11 g of fiber per 100g serving. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to up your fiber intake, make it a habit to snack on seeds and nuts like sesame and hazelnuts every day; just be mindful of the calorie content.
5. Switch to Whole Foods
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 edition recommends at least 50% of your grains are whole grains. Check your ingredients list on the pack; if it says whole wheat or whole grain add it to your menu. Terms like seven-grain, multi-grain, and cracked wheat are slightly misleading because they are not whole grains. They are processed grains where many of the nutrients have been leached out.
6. Make Movie Night Popcorn Night
Every cup of popcorn provides just over 1 gram of fiber. If you want the fiber without the oil, try air-popped popcorn.
7. Include a Salad at Dinner Time
Salads made from a mix of leafy vegetables will help fill you up. Use a low-carb salad dressing to reduce the number of calories. Studies indicate that olive oil and salad dressings can help with nutrient absorption. [*4]
What are Fiber the Top Fiber Foods?
A lot of fruits typically don’t contain as much fiber as nuts and vegetables, so here are a few of the top providers:
- Raspberries (9g per cup)
- Pears (5.5g medium size)
- Bananas (3.0g medium size)
- Oranges (3.0g medium size)
- Strawberries (3.0g per cup)
Many vegetables are an excellent source of fiber, including
- Green peas (9.0g per cup)
- Boiled broccoli (5.0g per cup)
- Cooked turnip greens (5.0g per cup)
- Boiled Brussels sprouts (4.0g per cup)
Consider the following grains when increasing your fiber intake:
- Whole wheat spaghetti (6.0g per cup)
- Cooked barley, pearled (6.0g per cup)
- Bran flakes (5.5g per ¾ cup)
- Cooked quinoa (5.0g per cup)
- Oat bran muffin (5.0g medium size)
Is Dietary Fiber a Carb?
Yes, dietary fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate, which includes soluble and insoluble fiber. A rule of thumb is to ensure you are consuming at least 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories.
Does Dietary Fiber Contribute to Your Calorie Intake?
It’s good to know that you are getting all the fiber you need, but you also need to watch your calorie intake. Understandably, people aiming to get more fiber on their menu will be concerned about how many calories dietary fiber foods will contribute to their daily count.
Unfortunately, due to some dietary fiber foods adding dissolvable fibers and therefore calories to your diet, there is some confusion.
People should aim to consume the recommended amount of fiber, which is around 14g per 1,000 calories. Insoluble fibers pass through unchanged, so don’t add to the calorie count. However, The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that soluble fibers add about two calories per gram of fiber. [*5]
Remember, though, dietary fiber foods help you feel full for longer and so can help you reduce the number of calories you consume at each meal.