by | Apr 2, 2024 | 1 comment

Unlocking the Health Benefits of Fiber (and how to get more of it!)

If I had to summarize my nutrition philosophy in 5 words or less, “fiber” would certainly be one of them.  I can hardly have any conversation about health – from gut health to heart health, from body composition to blood sugar balance, without talking about the importance of fiber.  But in conversations with my patients and clients, I often realize that thinking about fiber isn’t second nature for everyone! So in this post, we’ll explore the incredible benefits of fiber and how it can positively impact your health. From improving lab values to alleviating common symptoms, fiber is a nutritional powerhouse that shouldn’t be overlooked.

What is Fiber?

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods that our bodies cannot digest. Instead of being broken down and absorbed, fiber passes through the digestive system relatively intact, providing a range of health benefits along the way. Fiber comes in two main forms: soluble and insoluble.

Unlocking the Health Benefits of Fiber (and how to get more of it!)

Types of Fiber:

Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance, which slows down digestion and helps regulate blood sugar levels. Examples of soluble fiber-rich foods include oats, barley, apples, oranges, raspberries, beans, peas, lentils, and flaxseeds.

Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, does not dissolve in water and adds bulk to stools, promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. Foods high in insoluble fiber include whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, nuts, seeds, avocados, and vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower.

Benefits of Fiber:

There are numerous benefits of fiber, including some of the following:

  • Digestive Health: Fiber promotes regular bowel movements, prevents constipation, and supports a healthy digestive system by adding bulk to stools and promoting gut motility.
  • Heart Health: Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol in the digestive tract and removing it from the body, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Without adequate fiber, the cholesterol can be reabsorbed and brought back into circulation from the small intestine.
  • Inflammation and toxin control: Similar to cholesterol, the liver and digestive tract are working in conjunction to eliminate toxins and their resulting inflammation.  Fiber helps them be quickly excreted from the body instead of reabsorbed.
  • Blood Sugar Control: Fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, preventing spikes in blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight Management: High-fiber foods are more filling and lower in calories, helping to curb appetite and promote weight loss or weight maintenance.
  • Gut Health: Fiber acts as a prebiotic, feeding beneficial gut bacteria and promoting a healthy microbiome, which supports immune function and reduces the risk of gastrointestinal disorders.

Unlocking the Health Benefits of Fiber (and how to get more of it!)

How Much Fiber to Get Per Day: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that adult women consume around 25 grams of fiber per day and adult men consume around 35 grams of fiber per day, although individual needs may vary based on age, activity level, and overall health status.  Based on some research that shows our healthy ancestors consumed closer to 100 grams per day (!), I personally target at least 40 grams daily.  But beware… it’s essential to gradually increase fiber intake, chew very well, and drink plenty of water to prevent digestive discomfort.

Best High-Fiber Foods:

  • Fruits: Berries, apples, pears, oranges, avocado
  • Vegetables: Leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts
  • Whole Grains: Oats, quinoa, brown rice, millet
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds

How to Get More Fiber:

  • Start the day with a fiber-rich breakfast, such as overnight oats topped with berries and nuts or a breakfast casserole, hash, crustless quiche, or scramble with plenty of veggies.
  • Incorporate fruits and vegetables into every meal and snack.
  • Choose whole grains over refined grains whenever possible.
  • Snack on raw veggies with hummus or nut butter for a fiber boost.
  • Experiment with new recipes that feature beans, lentils, or other legumes.
  • Try soups, stews, or chilis – they’re an easy way to pack in tons of veggies even for those new to veggie loving.

Should You Take Fiber Supplements? While whole foods are the best sources of fiber, some individuals may find it challenging to meet their daily fiber needs through diet alone. In such cases, fiber supplements can be a convenient option. However, it’s essential to choose supplements made from natural sources and to increase fiber intake gradually to minimize digestive discomfort.  When it comes to my individual patients, it really depends on their gut health, symptoms, and labwork as to which type of fiber I recommend, but a safe place to start is with this psyllium husk fiber for a plain variety, or this one if you’re looking for flavor.

Unlocking the Health Benefits of Fiber (and how to get more of it!)

Improvements in Lab Results with Increased Fiber: Increasing fiber intake can lead to significant improvements in various lab values, including:

  • Cholesterol Levels: Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in the digestive tract, helping to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and improve overall cholesterol profiles.  See more on cholesterol here.
  • Blood Sugar Levels: Fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, leading to more stable blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity.
  • Inflammatory Markers: High-fiber diets have been associated with lower levels of inflammation in the body, as indicated by reduced levels of inflammatory markers like high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP).  See more about my favorite lab markers here.
  • Gut Health Markers: Fiber-rich diets support a healthy gut microbiome, leading to improvements in gut health markers such as increased diversity of beneficial bacteria and reduced markers of gut inflammation.

Overall, incorporating more fiber-rich foods into your diet is a simple yet powerful step towards better health and well-being.  Start gradually, and increase steadily, and watch your health improve!

Now it’s your turn!  What is your favorite source of fiber?


Want to hear about this topic in audio format? → Check out the podcast episode here!

1 Comment

  1. Nicole

    Good info as always.! I’m averaging about 20g a day. Im going to shoot for more!


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Megan Lyons Headshot

Hi! I'm Megan Lyons,

the voice behind The Lyons’ Share. I love all things health, wellness, and fitness-related, and I hope to share some of my passion with you. Thanks for stopping by!
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