Adults are recommended to consume dietary fiber (sometimes referred to as roughage) every single day, and yet many of us still do not consume enough. The benefits of ensuring that we eat enough fiber regularly are surprisingly wide-ranging, and many people report an improved sense of wellbeing and energy levels when they start consuming enough fiber. In order to improve your dietary fiber intake and enjoy the benefits both in the short term and long term, first, let’s look at what fiber is and why it is so important, and then work out how you can boost your intake quickly and easily. We have lots of great ideas to help you with getting plenty of fiber in your daily diet.
What is Fiber?
There are two different types of dietary fiber: soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, and insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve. Soluble fiber can be broken down and used by friendly gut bacteria. As it does this, a gel-like substance is created, and this helps with the process of digestion and supports healthy blood sugar levels. Most insoluble fiber is not broken down, but it is still incredibly important because it draws water in as stools are being produced, so a healthy intake of insoluble fiber means a healthy stool. This means regular healthy bowel movements. Many good sources of dietary fiber contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Why is Dietary Fiber so Important?
There are a lot of reasons why dietary fiber is one of the most important aspects of the human diet. Eating enough dietary fiber each day can reduce the risk of many serious diseases and health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer. It also can aid in maintaining a healthy weight. A good intake of dietary fiber helps with the feeling of fullness, promotes healthy digestion, and supports regular, healthy bowel movements.
Five Rich Sources of Dietary Fiber
There are many foods that contain fiber; in fact, it is only really meat, sugars, and dairy that don’t contain dietary fiber at all. However, some sources are richer than others. Here are our top five big-hitters and some easy ideas for how you can include more of them in your diet.
- Whole Grains – When whole grains are refined, most of the fiber is removed. So, for example, when whole grain flour is processed to produce white flour, the dietary fiber content reduces significantly. Other nutrients are also lost in this process, which is why whole grains are significantly healthier than their refined ‘white’ alternatives. To boost your fiber intake, swap white bread, rice, and pasta with whole grains such as wholewheat bread, wholewheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, Kamut, and oatmeal. Check the labels of the grains you buy to ensure they are whole grain varieties. If you find it difficult to make the move from white grains to whole grains, then you can swap out half of your white grains for whole grains to make the transition easier.
- Legumes, Beans, and Pulses – Dietary fiber is just one of the many nutritional benefits to eating legumes, beans, and pulses in your everyday diet. Beans particularly are so rich in fiber; just a cup of beans will deliver half of the fiber you need in a whole day. The great news is that there is a variety to suit every taste and every recipe. You could try adding lentils or white beans to soups, making delicious hummus with chickpeas, or making a batch of comforting chili packed with kidney beans. They can be easily added to salads, stews, casseroles, and stir-fries.
- Fruit inc berries, dried apple and pears – Fruit is full of fiber, but some fruit is richer than others. Simply swapping the fruits, you usually choose for some of the more fiber-rich varieties could see your daily intake of dietary fiber soar. Apples and pears are great sources, especially if you eat the skins where most of the fiber is found. Berries are also great for increasing fiber; add raspberries (one of the most fiber-rich of all fruits), blueberries, and strawberries to yogurts and cereals to add fiber as well as a wide range of other important nutrients. Fruits such as mangos and guavas are great sources of fiber too, and they make a super base for a healthy smoothie. Smoothies are an excellent way to boost fiber and ensure that you meet your daily intake of fruit and vegetables.
- Vegetables – Eating more vegetables is one of the easiest (and lowest cost) ways to increase dietary fiber. Good sources include broccoli, beets, collard greens, kale, brussels sprouts, chard, carrots, squashes, and peas. One of the best vegetables to eat for fiber is the artichoke. If you find it difficult to eat enough veggies each day, add them to smoothies, stews, or casseroles. Choose fresh, local organic produce when you can to increase your nutritional intake. The benefits of eating more veg go far beyond those resulting from increased fiber intake; vegetables contain hundreds of essential nutrients that can benefit your body in so many ways.
- Skin-On Potatoes – One of the easiest ways to boost your fiber intake is to simply stop peeling potatoes. Everything you do with potatoes, from boiling and mashing to roasting and frying, can be done with the skin left on. The skin of the potato contains lots of dietary fiber; in fact, half of the fiber content of a potato is found in the skin. So simply leaving it on and eating it doubles the fiber you consume. Leaving the skin on sweet potatoes also boosts the fiber content. Just wash them, and enjoy!
There are so many delicious ways to boost your fiber intake. As well as our Top Five above, there are plenty of other great options; nuts and seeds are great sources and contain many other great nutrients. Popcorn is a good high-fiber snack that will be popular with children who are reluctant to tuck into a plate of veggies. Get creative with fruit salads and veggie smoothies, and you will quickly notice the difference in your everyday wellbeing.