Fiber: we all need it, but hardly anyone is getting enough of it. Fiber is a specific type of carbohydrate, which the body can’t digest. It can help stabilize blood sugar, help you feel fuller, longer and improves your overall digestive health.
According to Vox, “Only 5 percent of people in the US meet the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily target of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. That amounts to a population-wide deficiency — what nutritionists call the ‘fiber gap.’”
Eating a fiber rich diet can help improve your digestive health, stabilizes your blood sugar and increases satiety, but it can also reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes and some cancers.
If you’re one of the 95 percent of people who fail to get enough fiber in your diet, read on. You’re missing out on a key nutritional component—and an easy way to feel healthier overall.
Types of fiber
There are two broad categories of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Within these categories, there are many subtypes and fiber varieties. All of them offer different benefits and effects.
Soluble fibers dissolve in water. They help lower glucose levels and blood cholesterol, and can be found in foods like lentils, beans, apples, blueberries, nuts and oatmeal.
Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It helps move food through your digestive tract, which helps prevent constipation. You can find insoluble fiber in brown rice, legumes, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, whole wheat and whole grain couscous.
How much fiber are you getting?
The average American gets just 16 grams of fiber per day, or about half of what we should be eating. Vox reports that the more fiber we eat, the more benefits there are: “In a recent Lancet review of 185 studies and 58 clinical trials, researchers found that if 1,000 people transitioned from a low-fiber diet (under 15 grams per day) to a high-fiber diet (25 to 29 grams per day), they’d prevent 13 deaths and six cases of heart disease. (Some researchers have described not eating high-fiber carbohydrates as “the opportunity cost” of the ultra low-carb ketogenic diet.)”
If you’re on a low-carb diet or otherwise suspect you’re not getting enough fiber, it’s time to reevaluate your diet. Start tracking your fiber intake in a food journal or app. If you’re like most people, you’ll probably come up short—which is a great call to action for the future.
Are supplements enough to get the job done?
Maybe you’re on a low-carb diet for health reasons (not just weight loss) or have other dietary restrictions which make getting enough fiber difficult. If that’s the case, you might turn to fiber supplements. But are they as effective as eating a fiber-rich diet?
Supplements can help bridge the gap, especially if you’re already eating a diet high in lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. When you just need to boost your fiber intake by a few grams, a supplement like Metamucil is a great way to keep your digestion regular and your blood sugar stable.
However, try not to rely entirely on supplements. While they provide an important service, eating high fiber foods also provides certain vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients—part of a balanced and diverse diet.
Benefits of getting enough fiber
Fiber is great for preventing disease. Specifically, eating a fiber-rich diet lowers your chances of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, diverticulitis, colon cancer, breast cancer and more.
If you’re trying to lose weight, adding more fiber to your diet will prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes, which can make you feel even hungrier than before. It also increases satiety, so you will feel fuller longer. It’s easier to resist making poor food choices when you’re not overly hungry.
Finally, getting enough fiber can boost your energy. When your body is able to process fiber, you’ll get a steady influx of fuel throughout the day. This makes you feel more energized—and less likely to need a cup of coffee after lunch.
The bottom line
Different bodies have different health needs, so be sure to talk to your doctor about your fiber intake, health goals and specific challenges in getting enough fiber. They can recommend lifestyle and dietary changes as well as good supplements to work with your health conditions.
Finally, if you’re increasing your fiber intake, start slow—too much all at once can cause bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms.