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It is 2024, and we're talking about macronutrients as if they're star athletes. You know about protein, carbs, and fats—they get all the attention. Fiber, on the other hand, is flying under the radar, but if predictions on X are to be believed (and when aren't they?), it is about to climb the ranks as the macronutrient du jour.
This is all to say: Americans are ignoring their fiber intake: Recent research estimates that only 5 percent of Americans are getting the recommended amount of fiber in their diets daily. And by neglecting the nutrient, they’re sleeping on some major health benefits.
“There are so many benefits to fiber,” says Kelly LeVeque, CCN, author and celebrity holistic health coach (who has worked with the likes of Jennifer Garner, Jessica Alba, and Emmy Rossum. “[They include] normalizing bowel movements and preventing constipation, maintaining bowel health, lowering cholesterol levels, inflammation and blood pressure to support overall heart health, and helping to control blood sugar levels and increasing satiety to manage weight and hunger.”
What Is Fiber?
Technically a type of carbohydrate, “dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes the parts of plant foods your body can't digest or absorb,” says LeVeque. “Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins, or [other] carbohydrates—which your body breaks down and absorbs—fiber isn't digested by your body.”
Even though the body doesn’t digest fiber itself, its presence in your diet helps your digestive system function in top form, says Maggie Berghoff, a functional medicine nurse practitioner and author of Eat to Treat.
According to LeVeque, this is because fiber acts as a prebiotic, promoting the growth and health of good bacteria in the gut. “The human gastrointestinal tract is home to a complex community of microorganisms, collectively known as the gut microbiota or microbiome. This community includes various bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microbes,” she says. “When we consume dietary fiber, it travels to the colon undigested, where it becomes a source of nutrition for the gut microbiota.”
To get sciencey real quick, LeVeque explains that the undigested fiber is converted to short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the gut. “These SCFAs … play a vital role in supporting both gut and overall health because they act as an energy source, maintain intestinal barrier function, fight inflammation, and support our immune system,” she says.
What Is the Difference Between Insoluble and Soluble Fiber?
There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble, and each has a role to play.
“Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion. This slows digestion,” LeVeque says. You can find soluble fiber in foods like beans, lentils, nuts, and some fruits and vegetables.
Insoluble fiber, meanwhile, “adds bulk to the stool and moves it quicker through the stomach and intestines,” says LeVeque. Insoluble fiber is rich in foods including whole grains, veggies, and wheat bran.
The Health Benefits of Fiber
As mentioned, dietary fiber is great for your gut: It keeps your bowel movements regular and helps prevent bloating and GI discomfort.
But the benefits don’t stop there. Research shows that fiber supports metabolic health by helping regulate blood sugar levels and aiding with the release of gut hormones, adipokines (a type of anti-inflammatory protein), and bile acids. These are all factors in the onset of Type 2 diabetes; so in this way, fiber is protective against the disease.
How Much Fiber Should You Consume?
Berghoff notes that the recommended amount of fiber will vary based on your sex and daily calorie intake, but the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories of food. “If you're at 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day, you are in fairly good shape,” Berghoff says.
Some signs you might not be getting enough fiber include bloating, constipation (and hemorrhoids), irritable bowel syndrome, or diverticulitis, says LeVeque.
High-Fiber Foods to Add to Your Shopping List
LeVeque says she recommends getting your fiber from whole foods like produce, nuts, and seeds before turning to supplementation. “Embracing a holistic approach to nutrition, I find that incorporating these wholesome options not only contributes to my daily fiber intake but also offers myriad [other] essential nutrients,” she says.
Here’s what you can load up on to reap the health benefits of dietary fiber:
“Fruit has a bad reputation often with dieters because of its sugar content, but fruits are high in fiber,” says Berghoff. “I want you to eat your fiber, eat your fruits and vegetables”—preferably with the skin on. “When you juice them, it takes away most of that fiber and then leaves just the high sugar, which … spikes your insulin levels.”
LeVeque says some of her favorite fruits include berries and avocados (yes, avo is a fruit). Pears, apples, kiwi, and pomegranate also pack a punch of fiber.
Shocker, I know, but fiber is another reason to eat your greens.
Peas (8.8 grams of fiber per serving) and broccoli (5.2 grams) are really high in fiber, says Berghoff. Other expert-recommended high-fiber veggies include cruciferous vegetables like kale, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts; carrots; and sweet corn. Artichokes top the USDA’s list of high-fiber foods (9.6 grams per serving), and potatoes and sweet potatoes are also great sources.
The USDA recommends cooking most of your vegetables to maximize their fiber content (although there are some instances where raw is the better choice, such as for red bell peppers, carrots, and jicama).
3. Beans and legumes
High-protein beans and legumes include navy beans, white beans, lima beans, mung beans, lentils, and chickpeas—each of which has 7 to 9 grams of fiber per standard serving.
4. Whole grains
Berghoff says that oats are her top pick for an easy way to reach your fiber goals. “Most people are eating oats in some form anyways, and that's a really good high fiber choice.”
According to the USDA, many ready-to-eat cereals are high in fiber, including shredded wheat and bran flakes. Whole wheat pasta, quinoa, bulgar, spelt, and barley are also fiber-rich whole grains (clocking 3 to 7 grams per serving).
5. Nuts and seeds
In addition to being rich and fiber, LeVeque says she loves nuts and seeds because they “offer a satisfying crunch along with healthy fats,” says LeVeque. Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, coconut, almonds, and chestnuts are at the top of the USDA’s list.
Chia seeds, which are also rich and omega-3 fatty acids and help promote hydration by absorbing water, are an easy way to add a fiber boost to your meal. “Chia seeds are my secret sauce,” says Berghoff. “I will put them in drinks, I will put them in meals. If I'm doing an Instant Pot recipe, I usually add chia seeds.”
What About Fiber Supplements?
Nutrition experts, including Berghoff and LeVeque, say that it’s best to get your nutrients from whole foods. But if that’s difficult for you to do consistently, supplementing your food with fiber powder—from a source like psyllium, inulin, or methylcellulose—may be a good way for you to go.
“A daily non-negotiable for me is adding organic psyllium husk powder to my smoothie as a main fiber source because it provides six grams of soluble fiber in one serving,” says LeVeque.
Just remember to check with your doctor before adding any supplements to your regimen. Supplements, even something as harmless-seeming as a fiber supplement, could exacerbate certain health conditions or impact medications you’re taking.
Originally Appeared on GQ