You have probably heard about fiber and its general health benefits, but what is it exactly and why does it matter for you? We’ll dig into all you need to know about fiber including the benefits and different types of fiber and how to get enough.
Fiber is an incredible naturally occurring component in plant foods and has numerous health benefits, including metabolic health, heart health, digestive health, and weight management.
The crunch of a crisp apple or the gel-like consistency of oatmeal is thanks to fiber, which gives the structure to plants. Fiber is actually a unique type of carbohydrate that is indigestible by the human body. Rather, bacteria in the gut can ferment certain types of fiber as a source of food and produce by-products beneficial to human health. Fibers that are fermentable by gut bacteria are known as prebiotic fibers.
Fibers such as psyllium husk as well as beta-glucan in oats that form gels drive positive metabolic health effects.
In the small intestine, these fibrous gels, which are types of soluble fibers, slow down the rate of nutrients dumping into the bloodstream when incorporated into the diet, which can significantly promote satiety and healthy blood sugar levels that are already within normal range.
Soluble fibers can also help maintain healthy cholesterol levels already within normal range through helping the gut to eliminate more bile. Bile uses cholesterol as an ingredient along with water, amino acids, and other constituents.
In a 10-year follow up study of women, increased amounts of fiber in grains in particular was associated with a healthy heart.
By the same mechanism in which fiber helps to slow down the intestinal transit time, fiber also supports satiety and appetite regulation. This helps to maintain a healthy body weight.
One study of women over a 20 month timespan showed that higher fiber intake was associated with positive weight management over time, independent of other variables.
Probably the most well known benefit of fiber is its support of digestive health. Fiber helps to form regular bowel movements and can keep them soft to pass easily. In the large intestine, fiber can provide a bowel stimulation or laxative effect through resistance to fermentation and drawing in water content to soften and bulk the stool.
Fiber also acts as the food for gut bacteria, with some bacteria producing favorable by-products such as short-chain fatty acids and promoting a healthy mucus lining in the gut.
Two helpful ways to know whether or not you are getting enough fiber are observing your bowel movements and intake of fiber foods.
Bowel movements can be a good indicator of whether or not you are getting enough fiber. Healthy bowel movements should be regular (commonly reported anywhere between 3 per day or 3 per week) and easy to pass. Ideally at least one bowel movement daily that is formed and looks like a type 4 on the Bristol Stool Chart.
Constipation from time to time, on the other hand, may involve less than 3 bowel movements per week, straining, and/or sensation of incomplete emptying of the bowel.
Occasional challenges with bowel movements can be a sign of insufficient fiber.
Foods high in fiber include vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fruits. Tracking your intake of these can be a helpful way to know if you are getting enough fiber. Aim to get multiple servings of fibrous plant foods with your meals.
Common dietary guidelines recommend on average about 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories. For women eating on average 2000 calories per day, that comes out to be about 28 grams of fiber. For men eating on average 2600 calories per day, the recommended fiber intake would be about 36 grams per day.
Hydration is an important factor in having healthy bowel movements. The digestive tract needs sufficient amounts of both water and fiber together to prevent constipation.
Avoid excessive amounts of fiber all at once which can result in some digestive discomfort. While the gut microbiome can adjust to increased fiber intake, this may take time. If you notice you are not meeting recommended daily intake of fiber, focus on gradually increasing intake of fibrous foods while increasing hydration.
As stated, fiber is naturally present only in plant foods. Whole and minimally processed plant foods contain fiber, while highly processed foods often have some or all of fiber removed during processing.
Certain processed foods also contain added fibers. While these may be helpful to increase your daily fiber intake, take caution with these as they may contain higher levels of certain fibers that may contribute to uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
To get fiber in the forms that are naturally supportive for the digestive tract, incorporate whole or minimally processed plant foods regularly into your diet. Fiber supplements that simply contain foods high in fiber, such as chia, flax, and psyllium, can be a helpful addition to a healthy diet.
Fiber can either be soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber can dissolve in water. In plants, soluble fibers consist of the inner flesh in forms like pectin, gums, and mucilage. Think of foods like raw fruits or cooked oats, peas, beans, carrots, and many root vegetables. These foods all contain soft flesh made up of soluble fiber.
In the small intestine, soluble fibers can draw in water to form gels. These thick gels are generally what drive the favorable metabolic health effects of fiber. For example, soluble fibers have been shown to promote healthy cholesterol levels already within normal limits in the blood. These fibers also help maintain healthy blood sugar levels that are already within normal by delaying intestinal transit time when used as a part of your diet.
Further along in the digestive tract, these fibrous gels are usually fermented by bacteria in the colon (the large intestine) into healthy metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids. These gels can also help eliminate bile, which often contains components that the body wants to get rid of, such as toxins and excess cholesterol. Getting enough fiber helps the body eliminate undesirable compounds.
Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Rather, this fiber has a bulking effect for stools that helps support regularity of bowel movements. Insoluble fibers also generally do not undergo much fermentation by gut bacteria.
Getting a variety of whole plant foods in your diet is a great way to get plenty of insoluble fiber.
As you have learned so far, incorporating a variety of plant foods into your diet is an excellent way to meet your daily fiber needs. Fiber supplements added to your daily intake can also be an easy way to meet your fiber goals. In the following sections, we will discuss fiber supplements and how they may support your health goals.
The dosage of fiber supplements depends on how much fiber you are already consuming. If you add up how much fiber you eat daily on average and notice that you are not meeting your daily fiber needs, then you may want to increase your fiber intake.
As discussed, the recommended average daily fiber intake for men and women is 36 grams and 28 grams, respectively.
You can get the recommended amount either through eating additional plant foods, fiber supplements, or a combination of both.
For best digestive tolerance, spread the additional fiber throughout the day. Also be sure to hydrate well to help your body tolerate fiber intake.
For example, if you are a man and notice you are only consuming about 25 grams of fiber daily, you may want to incorporate an additional 11 grams of fiber throughout your day. You can add an additional 3-4 grams of fiber to each meal either through an additional serving or two of plant foods or through adding a fiber supplement at a serving size of about 3-4 grams of fiber.
When adding fiber supplements to your daily routine, take caution with certain ingredients if you have food allergies or sensitivities. For example, if you have a wheat or gluten allergy or gluten sensitivity, always check the Supplement Facts label for wheat ingredients.
Some fiber supplements may be better or worse tolerated depending on individual gut health needs and tolerance. For example, inulin fiber, often in the form of chicory root in supplement ingredients, is highly fermentable by gut bacteria and therefore may create digestive symptoms like gas for some people. Psyllium husk fiber, on the other hand, is generally well tolerated due to lower levels of fermentation by gut bacteria.
Be sure to choose products that meet strict principles of quality. Third-party testing is a process by which products are tested three times throughout the supply chain. At Care/of, this looks like testing the ingredients when received, again during manufacturing, and finally testing the finished products. This approach ensures the products meet exact specifications and are safe.
The term “GMO” stands for “genetically modified organism.” According to the USDA, GMO foods and products are those that are produced through genetic modification. Some people may feel more comfortable choosing non-GMO products, or those made without genetic modification. Look for a “Non-GMO” claim on the supplement label.
The Chia Flax powder supplement contains 4 grams of fiber per scoop from organic chia seeds, flaxseeds, and organic pea fiber. This product is certified Non-GMO and produced with third-party testing to ensure quality of ingredients and products containing what is on the label.
Chia and flax seeds are natural sources of soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which are vital for a healthy digestive system. They increase fecal bulk and stool frequency and decrease intestinal transit time.
The chia and flax seeds also provide critical omega-3 fatty acid nutrients like ALA, which can be converted to EPA and DHA.
At just $1 per serving, Care/of’s Chia Flax fiber supplement makes meeting your daily fiber goals a breeze!
Fiber is a key factor in your health and a helpful food component to incorporate regularly into your diet. Consisting of two major types, soluble and insoluble, fiber in the diet provides a host of benefits from bulking stools and increasing transit time to promoting beneficial metabolites and healthy levels of cholesterol already within normal limits and blood sugar already within normal range. Recommendations for average daily fiber intake are 28 grams for women and 36 grams for men. You can easily meet your daily fiber goals through eating a variety of whole plant foods as well as adding in fiber supplements.