Fiber is one of the most important pillars of a healthy diet, yet sadly most Canadians are failing to eat enough of it. We obsess over fat, protein, carbs, sugar, calories and even salt, rarely do we stop and give a second thought to fiber, a super nutrient with incredibly healthful benefits extending far beyond digestive health and including benefits on risk factors for immune function* which is critical at a time where Covid-19 is an everyday concern for us all!
It is estimated that most Canadians only get a meagre 14 grams of fiber each day, half the daily recommended amount of fiber (30 grams) research suggests could be protective against chronic disease. In fact, fiber is one of the only nutrients with no upper limit, meaning we all (men, women and children) should aim for 30 grams of fibre from whole foods daily for maximum health benefits.
What Is Fiber?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. In simpler terms, it is the indigestible part of plant foods, like the thin strings in celery, the peel on potatoes or the husk on wheat grains. Our body can’t digest fiber, consequently it passes through it without being broken down nor absorbed, but offers many benefits along the way. It exists in two forms, soluble and insoluble, both can be found in most plant-based foods just in varying amounts. Soluble fiber dissolves in water forming a gel-like substance in the colon increasing stool bulk, whereas insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, but rather remains intact as it moves through our digestive tract promoting normal movement of its contents.
Foods that represent a good source of soluble fiber include beans, peas and lentils, oats, oat and rice bran, barley, apples, pears, citrus fruits, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, peas, chia and flax seeds.
On the other hand, whole grains, wheat cereals, root vegetables (carrots, turnips, parsnips), celery, cucumbers, fruits that contain seeds, avocados, nuts and seeds are good sources of insoluble fiber.
What Are the Benefits of Fiber?
When we think fiber our mind typically thinks about our digestive health and how it helps keep us regular, however this super-nutrient does so much more than that! Each type of fiber has its respective properties and healthful benefits, as well as a few that they share. The following are some of the benefits research has linked to a diet rich in fiber:
Lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
Stabilizing blood sugar levels and reducing risk of diabetes
Lowering fat absorption
Increasing satiety and helping with weight management
Preventing constipation and intestinal blockages
Lowering risk of diverticular disease and possible colon cancer
Overall lowering of risk for various diseases
Boosting gut health by feeding gut bacteria*
Reducing inflammation and strengthening the immune system*
Boosting production of a protein that stimulates the body’s infection-fighting T cells*
How to Boost Your Fiber Intake?
Total daily fiber intake should come from whole, nutritious foods, rather than from supplements and we should all be aiming for at least 30 grams a day, which is double our current intake amount. Although this may sound like much, you can actually attain this amount with minimum effort. Just make sure to increase your fiber intake gradually and drink plenty of fluids because fiber needs water to pass smoothly through our digestive tract!
1. Grain Products
Whether it be for your bread, breakfast cereals, crackers, or any other grain product, make sure to get at least one serving of whole grains per meal. Compare labels and choose those with the highest amount of fiber per serving. Products made with added seeds or legumes (lentils, chickpeas, etc.) will often have a bigger fiber impact while adding other healthy nutrients to the menu. There are so many varieties of whole grains out there, amaranth, bulgur, freekeh, farro, Khorasan, all packed with fiber and delicious flavor, why not switch your white grains with one of these once a week?
2. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables with the skin or peel intact provide a much greater dose of fiber. Peeling your apple before eating it or opting for mashed instead of baked potatoes will cut the fiber amount by half! And did you know that if you ate the recommended 2 to 3 servings of fruits per day you could easily attain a third of the recommended daily amount of fiber?
3. Nuts and Seeds
Make nuts and seeds a part of your everyday. You don’t need a big amount, just a small handful (2 tablespoons) adds an easy 3 grams of fiber to your snack or meal. I love seeds and use them daily because they are nutrient powerhouses. A single serving (2 tablespoons) of flax or chia seeds will bring you roughly an extra 10 grams of fiber daily!
Plant-based protein food sources make the cut here as well. Lentils, beans, split peas, chickpeas and all other legumes provide on average half a day’s worth of fiber in one little cup! Make them a part of at least one meal a week. An easy way to get you started would be by swapping a regular bowl of white pasta with a legume-based one that is made with chickpeas or red lentils or even green peas. Because they are rich in both fiber and protein, you don’t need to add anything more than a great tomato sauce to finish it off!
And just like that you just ingested at least 30 grams of fiber in 4 little easy steps! ;-)