Health benefits of fiber and best sources


Adding 1 tablespoon of chia seeds to yogurt gives you an extra 10 grams of fiber. Getty Images

You probably know that fiber is an important ingredient for a healthy diet. But if you\’re like most Americans, you can\’t get enough.

While it\’s best known as the nutrient that helps keep you regular, fiber has other important health benefits. That\’s why doctors and nutritionists are urging people to prioritize.

I always joke that fiber is my favorite f-word, says Caroline Susie, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A high-fiber diet can help with weight management, blood sugar regulation, and cholesterol and blood pressure levels, she points out, all risk factors for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death among US adults.

According to a 2019 meta-analysis published in The Lancet. And an older study published in the journal of the American Heart Association Hit found that a person\’s risk of first-time stroke decreased by 7 percent for every 7-gram increase in fiber in their daily diet.

In addition to reducing disease risk, adequate fiber intake may improve quality of life through better gastrointestinal health and improved energy levels,Dr. Mona Bahouth, a stroke neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, says Fortune. A balanced diet that includes healthy fiber has the potential to impact long-term wellness and brain health for everyone, she says.

Here\’s what you need to know to switch to a high-fiber diet.

What is Fiber?

Fiber is a carbohydrate found in plant-based foods that cannot be fully digested by the body. In general, there are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. They are found in different sources, but both are good for you and perform similar functions in your body.

  • Soluble fiber can be dissolved in water and helps stabilize blood sugar and lower cholesterol. It is found in beans, avocados and pears.
  • Insoluble fiber can\’t be dissolved in water and helps move food through the digestive tract; can prevent or relieve constipation. Insoluble fiber is found in whole wheat flour, cauliflower and potatoes.

How much fiber do I need?

Only 5 percent of Americans get enough fiber, studies show. Most of us are losing a lot, consuming only 10 to 15 grams per day.

The American Heart Association recommends that most adults get at least 25 grams of fiber per day, or about 8 to 10 grams per meal.

These guidelines don\’t account for body differences like height and weight or health history, but your doctor or nutritionist can help you determine the right amount of fiber for you.

What are some foods high in fiber?

Fiber-rich food groups include legumes, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Here are some high-fiber favorites that Susie recommends:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Fresh fruit such as strawberries, oranges, blueberries, apples and pears in their skins
  • Fresh vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas and jacket potatoes
  • Popcorn
  • Avocado
  • Oatmeal
  • Barley
  • Split the peas
  • Chia seeds

Should I take fiber supplements?

There are dozens of fiber supplements on the market. But Bahouth says it\’s best to look for whole foods. Studies have shown that supplements may not offer the same benefits, such as the feeling of fullness that comes from eating high-fiber foods. Supplements can also lack vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that come from food, and such supplements can also cause gas and bloating.

However, there are some situations where supplements could be beneficial. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a fiber supplement, as there may be an interaction with some medications, warns Susie.

How can I add more fiber to my diet without supplements?

Here are three easy ways to add more fiber to your diet, according to Susie:

  • For breakfast: Add 1 tablespoon of chia seeds to yogurt (10 grams more fiber).
  • For lunch: Add 1/2 cup of peas to your salad (additional 4.5 grams of fiber).
  • For snack: Add 1 cup of berries (8 additional grams of fiber).

That\’s 22.5 grams of fiber on top of what you\’re already consuming, and all before dinner, she says.

How fast should I increase my fiber intake?

When you increase your fiber intake, go slowly, you\’ll want to give your body a chance to adjust. Adding too much fiber too quickly can lead to stomach upset (gas, bloating and cramping), advises Susie.

Try adding just one more daily serving of a high-fiber food to your diet for a week or two. If you feel good, add another serving daily for a week until you reach your goal. Increase your water intake as you increase your fiber intake, she recommends. Fiber works best when it absorbs water. This will contribute to a more comfortable bathroom experience.

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