Fiber: What It Is and How to Get It
Fiber is one of those things that many of us know is important in an abstract way, but have a hard time explaining what it is or why it’s important. Every one-on-one coach at Working Against Gravity provides their clients with a fiber goal along with their macros. This is because fiber is an integral part of a healthy diet and body, providing many essential benefits.
What is fiber?
Fiber comes from plants and is the part of the plant that our bodies don’t completely absorb. It’s mostly made up of the cell walls that surround plant cells. The tougher parts of plants, such as the stalks or skins, house the majority of the fiber. So fiber passes through our digestive system relatively intact but it does a lot of awesome things for our body along the way, which we’ll be diving into. 😉
As a macronutrient, fiber is a carbohydrate. It’s listed on nutrition labels underneath carbohydrates to indicate what amount of the total grams of carbohydrate is made up of fiber.
Types of Fiber
In addition to aiming for a total amount of fiber daily, a mixture of both types of fiber can help us feel our best.
Soluble fiber interacts with water and becomes a gel-like substance in our digestive system. This reaction works to slow our digestion. We obtain most of the nutrients in our food through passive absorption, as food passes through our digestive system. If our food goes through us too quickly, we miss out on a lot of vital nutrients. Some of the foods you can source soluble fiber from include oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, apples, citrus fruits, and carrots.[1,2]
Insoluble fiber combines with the other foods we eat and works to bulk up our stool, helping speed up digestion. Some of the foods it can be found in include wheat, whole grains, nuts, beans, cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.[1,2]
In addition to aiming for a total amount of daily fiber, it’s important to consider if you’re getting a mixture of both fiber types to help you feel your best. We’ll talk more about how much fiber you need later on in this blog.
What does it do?
The immediate health benefits of fiber is on our digestive system. Without enough fiber in our diets, we may experience constipation. Fiber also helps us feel fuller, which increases our satisfaction and supports weight loss while increasing our absorption of essential nutrients from our foods. 
Regular consumption of fiber can also have a positive effect on heart health. Fiber can help lower cholesterol, which in turn supports cardiovascular health. Studies have proven that increased fiber intake correlates to a lowered risk of cardiovascular and coronary disease. It can also be used to treat diverticulosis, diabetes and heart disease. It is even associated with a lowered risk of some forms of cancer.
What about supplements?
The best way to get fiber is through a diet rich in whole and unprocessed foods. Our bodies absorb nutrients from food more readily than those found in most supplements. Many supplements also don’t provide a variety of fibers or the other minerals and nutrients found in whole foods.
Some supplements also have more negative side effects, such as bloating and abdominal cramping, than more natural ways of obtaining fiber. Some of the benefits from fiber, such as increased feelings of satisfaction, may not always occur with supplements. Therefore, try to obtain as much of your fiber as you can from whole-food sources.
If you do need to supplement your fiber intake, make sure to look for something with a good mixture of both kinds of fiber and check the ingredients list. Better-quality supplements will have far fewer side effects. And always speak with a doctor before making your final decision for a high fiber diet.
How much should I eat?
Due to the high rate of heart disease in the United States, low fiber intake is now considered a national health issue. The National Institutes of Health recommends that adult women eat a minimum of 25 grams of fiber a day and that adult males eat 38 grams of fiber, while adult women 51 years or older should consume 21 grams and adult men 51 years or older should consume 30 grams daily.
If you’re new to adding fiber to your diet, we suggest taking it slow. If you add too much too soon, you may have some not-so-pleasant side effects, such as bloating, cramping or diarrhea. When you incorporate fiber to your diet over time, this helps to lessen these effects and allows your body to adjust until they cease altogether. Also remember that staying hydrated will help.
How can I add more fiber to my diet?
Here are a few simple changes you can make to add more high fiber foods to your diet:
- Switch to whole grains. Whenever possible, try to eat whole-grain options for bread, rice, pasta, and other grain-based foods.
- Diversify. Add extra whole grains or veggies to your casseroles, soups, and stews. Include cabbage in your salads and throw some seeds in your smoothie.
- Try the beans. Legumes like beans or lentils provide a lot of fiber. Add them to soups and salads to easily increase fiber.
- Start your day with fiber. Choose a breakfast that provides at least 5 or more grams of fiber to start your day and keep yourself fueled for your morning activities.
- Snack smartly. Choose fruits and veggies for your snacks! Opting for celery and hummus or apples with nut butter will stretch your snack out by helping you feel full longer than you would had you chosen chips or candy.[1,6]
Wondering what amount and type of fiber is perfect for your dietary needs? Want help identifying where you can add fiber to your diet? Interested in feeling your very best every day? Work with a WAG coach to find exactly what your body needs for success.
Looking for some tasty ways to hit your fiber goals? Check out some of the recipes from the WAG blog!
- High-Fiber Banana Pancakes
- Ricotta Toast With Roasted Blueberries and Thyme
- Sweet and Spicy Oven Dried Berries
- Jicama Breakfast Casserole
- Quinoa and Turkey Stuffed Peppers
- Fiber Muffins
Still feeling stuck? A 1:1 nutrition coach can help you add more fiber to your diet based on your personal needs and preferences.
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- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Mayo Clinic Nutrition and Healthy Eating. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
- Vorvick, L. J., & Zieve, D. (2018). Fiber. MedLine Plus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002470.htm
- Threapleton, D.E., Greenwood, D.C., Evans, C.E., Cleghorn, C.L., Nykjaer, C., Woodhead, C., … & Burley, V.J. (2013). Dietary fibre intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. doi:10.1136/bmj.f6879
- Picco, M. F. (2018). I find it difficult to eat enough fruits and vegetables: Is there any harm in taking a fiber supplement every day? Mayo Clinic Nutrition and Healthy Eating. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/fiber-supplements/faq-20058513?p=1
- Food and Nutrition Board. (2005). Dietary, functional, and total fiber. Dietary References Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/read/10490/chapter/1
- Larson, H. (2017). Easy ways to boost fiber in your daily diet. Eat Right: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/easy-ways-to-boost-fiber-in-your-daily-diet