Wellness Wednesday: Fall for Fiber
Fiber, fiber, fiber. If you’ve spent any time researching healthy eating habits or weight loss, chances are you’ve heard about the benefits of including high fiber foods in your diet, but specifics of how much and what kind of fiber to consume can be a little less obvious. While including fiber in your diet is definitely not dangerous, it is also not a one-size-fits-all, more-is-more nutrient. This week, I’ll cover the basics of what fiber is, where you can get it, how much you need per day and whether you need a fiber supplement or not.
In its most basic form, fiber is a form of carbohydrate found in plants that your body can’t digest. For this reason, its often looked at a “free” way to add bulk and volume to foods without adding calories. Sounds great, right? More food, less calories? While this might sound like a no-brainer, too much of the wrong type of fiber can act as a gut irritant and even cause some serious stomach distress.
Fiber comes in two varieties: soluble and insoluble, that are very different. When you eat soluble fiber, it reacts with water to form a gel and slows digestion. Soluble fiber also has the additional benefit of promoting gut health by feeding the beneficial bacteria that live in your large intestine. This, in turn, can help everything from your mental health to your ability to fight off infection. Insoluble fiber, in contrast, absorbs water and swells to many times its original size. It can also speed up your digestion by adding bulk to your stool, therefore helping to relieve constipation.
You can get fiber by consuming fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. If you’re grain-free or paleo, don’t worry. You can still get plenty of fiber simply by being sure that your diet is full of things like crunchy fruits and veggies, as well as mushrooms, berries, zucchini, coconut, and squash. For extra fiber, leave the skins on things like raw apples, pears and carrots or roasted vegetables when you eat them. According to the Institute of Medicine, adults need between 20 and 40g of fiber per day for overall health. Thankfully, this number is fairly easy to hit, as a cup of raspberries has 8 g of fiber, an apple with the skin has 4.4g of fiber and a medium avocado has 11.8 g of fiber or about half your intake.
If you consume a balanced diet rich in high fiber foods, you do not (strictly speaking) need to supplement your fiber intake. If you do choose to supplement with fiber, make sure you are supplementing with primarily soluble fiber, as large doses of insoluble fiber can create gut irritation and inflammation.
Next up: Join us next week as we look at recipes for adding fiber to foods without feeling like we are eating cardboard.