You’ve probably heard that you should be eating plenty of fiber-rich foods, but you may not know why fiber is so important.
By learning about what fiber is, how consuming it can contribute to your health, and how to prep your kitchen for success, you’ll be on your way to eating fiber-rich meals with ease.
Fiber positively contributes to your health in so many wonderful ways, especially your digestive and gut health. When you’re preparing your meals, making sure you have plenty of fiber-rich foods on your plate will help you to feel your best. It will help support your digestion, prevent blood sugar spikes, as well as help you to feel full and satiated.
Read on to explore why fiber is so important and how you can make sure you’re getting plenty of it in each meal!
Why Fiber is Important to Consume Daily
To give you a bit of context, dietary fiber is a plant-based carbohydrate that cannot be broken down into sugar molecules. It’s found in whole, plant-based foods. Consumption of fiber slows the rate of digestive absorption (more on that later) and acts like a broom that’s gently brushing out your intestines.
This broom-like function combined with the delaying of absorption contributes to many of its health benefits. So let’s chat through them!
Supports Stable Blood Sugar Levels
When consumed, fiber slows the rate of digestion. In turn, this can slow down the rate of sugar being absorbed in the bloodstream, creating a vehicle for stabilizing blood sugars. This is particularly beneficial because when sugar is absorbed too quickly, we can experience blood sugar spikes and subsequent drops.
Eating whole foods rich in fiber, like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, will prevent these blood sugar spikes. Blood sugar spikes can make you feel less than your best and may also contribute to other health complications, so it’s always great to prevent them.
Helps Keep You Satiated
Because of the way fiber slows down the rate of digestion, it also plays a role in your body signaling that you’re full. When we consume food items that are void of fiber, they’re processed and absorbed very quickly by the body. This can result in a lack of satiety and fullness over time (think of that insatiable hunger sensation).
In contrast, when the fiber is present, food items are processed absorbed much slower, naturally. This keeps you feeling full and energized for a longer period of time. By intentionally incorporating fiber in our meals, we can slow down that absorption and encourage fullness.
Helps Your Body Remove Waste
Remember that broom-like motion we mentioned earlier?
Fiber, especially insoluble fiber, acts like a little broom that sweeps your intestines and colon of build-up in your intestines and can reduce your risk for colon cancer.
Fiber also plays a role in gastrointestinal (GI) motility. Essentially, it helps to keep things moving in your intestines. This is what helps you maintain regular bowel movements and prevent constipation.
Cultivates a Healthy Gut
We know the majority of our immune system lies within our gut, so it’s so important we take care of our gut health by nurturing probiotics with prebiotic-rich foods.
Fiber is an excellent source of prebiotics. Prebiotics essentially act like food for the probiotics (or the healthy bacteria) that live within our gut microbiome and help to make it thrive. A great balance of the two allows for a healthy digestive system and microbiome.
Protects Your Heart Health
Fiber even helps contribute to optimal heart health. In a nutshell, when you digest food, it requires the release of bile acids which are mostly made up of cholesterol.
Your liver pulls cholesterol from the bloodstream to create bile acids, which can reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in the body. Remember, LDL is the cholesterol more closely associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, so it’s important to ensure those LDL levels don’t creep up too high.
How to Get Plenty of Fiber-Rich Foods at Each Meal
First and foremost, when you’re using our Foundational Five system to create balanced meals, it guides you to ensure you have plenty of fiber-rich foods on your plate at each and every meal. This whole-food framework is packed with nutrients to ensure all of your meals are well-rounded.
But with that said, it’s helpful to understand the different food sources of fiber, as well as the different types of fiber that can be present. That way, you can be mindful and intentional of your choices so you can reap those health benefits we just discussed.
A quick note on fiber amounts – some people thrive on higher intakes, while others (due to certain health conditions) require a bit less. Be sure to take your individual health needs into account when determining fiber intake daily. If this is something you need support with, touching base with a Registered Dietitian can be a great place to start.
Now let’s dive into the different types of fiber and food sources of each of them.
First, we have soluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water. As it moves through your digestive system it’s fermented by bacteria and it’s typically hydrophilic, meaning it loves water. This type of fiber absorbs water and becomes gel-like in the GI tract. Remember making chia seed pudding? Chia seeds are a great source of soluble fiber!
Soluble fiber, in particular, can reduce cholesterol, regulate blood sugars, and can improve overall digestive and immune health.
Great sources of soluble fiber include:
- most vegetables
- sweet potato
- dried figs
- flax seed
- chia seeds
- psyllium husk
Next up we have insoluble fiber. This one, on the other hand, does not dissolve in water. So as it goes through your digestive system, it doesn’t change form. This means that it does not absorb water like soluble fiber and become gel-like. Instead, it stays the same.
Insoluble fiber promotes regular bowel movements (since it contributes to the bulk of the stool), speeds up the elimination of waste through the colon, and maintains the pH of the intestines.
Many whole foods that contain insoluble fiber also contain soluble fiber.
Great sources of insoluble fiber include:
- bran cereals
- most whole grains
- vegetables like okra and corn
What About Supplements?
Now that you know why fiber is important for your health, you might be thinking, “Well, I saw a commercial about adding a supplement to my water so I can increase my intake and reap the benefits in an easy way.” First things first, if you’re able to consume it through food, this is the best place to start.
Eating whole foods as your main source of fiber, instead of supplements, promotes a healthy relationship with food, a well-balanced diet, encourages cooking healthy, and challenges you to put into practice what you’re learning right now.
Fiber supplements really should be a last resort after you’ve exhausted consuming whole foods. If you do reach for a supplement, be sure to check in with your Registered Dietitian or doctor to determine which option is the best for you.
Set Yourself Up For Success
Now that you know about all the benefits and different types, have some fun in the kitchen!
The first step is to stock your pantry and fridge with some great go-to fiber-rich foods that you enjoy. First, run through those lists above that we just went through. Pick out any that you know really like already, then maybe pick one or two you’ve never had and would like to try. Don’t forget to add them to your recurring grocery list! That way you can have them on hand for all of your meals moving forward.
Next, as you go to make each of your meals, be sure to consider the Foundational Five (protein + starchy and sugary carbohydrate + non-starchy carbohydrate + fat + flavor factor) whenever you can to ensure you’ve got a balanced plate to the best of your ability. This will help you to determine which food items are great sources of fiber, as well as where you might be missing out.
With practice, you’ll be easily able to recall which fiber-rich foods are easy to add to different types of meals!
Do You Want To Learn How To Eat Balanced Meals With Ease?
Eating a fiber-rich diet is a great step towards a well-balanced lifestyle, but there’s so much more to consider as well!
Learning to nourish yourself in a way that works uniquely for you allows you to feel empowered and confident when making food choices. No more second-guessing your food choices or feeling overwhelmed by all the nutrition information out there. You can navigate your health and wellness with ease and balance.
To get started, take our free quiz to find out which balanced eating archetype you are and what your unique type needs to maintain balance with the way you nourish yourself. That way, you can be free from food and diet obsession, maintain a balanced weight, and cultivate a positive relationship with food and your body.