Fiber is one of the most important nutrients for overall health. But whenever someone asks me, “am I getting enough fiber?” I usually assume the answer is no.
Sadly, only 5% of American adults hit the Institute of Medicine guidelines, which call for 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. In fact, the average intake among American adults is a paltry 15 grams per day.
In this post, I’m going to talk about why fiber is so important and share some tips for eating more of it, so that you can be part of a small but illustrious group of fiber phenoms. But first, let’s talk about what fiber is.
What is Fiber, and Why is it Good for You?
Most nutrients we get in the diet become useful to us once they’re broken down into smaller parts. Fiber is a bit of an outlier in this sense. Dietary fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate, which means that it reaches the large intestine mostly intact.
So how can a nutrient that isn’t even fully digested be so good for you? A few ways, actually! Here are a couple of examples.
- Fiber binds to other substances–such as cholesterol–in the small intestine so that they’re excreted when you poop.
- Certain types of fiber “feed” healthy bacteria in your gut called probiotics. Studies have linked a healthy gut biome (meaning, all of the different types of bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes that live in your belly) with so many health benefits. There’s also some evidence that people who eat more fiber have more diverse biomes.
- Fiber helps slow down the absorption of other nutrients, and of sugar.
- Because it travels through the intestines mostly intact, fiber removes buildup in the colon.
Okay, but what does this mean for you?
Studies have linked higher fiber intake with lower risk of the following health conditions:
- Heart disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Colon cancer
- Breast cancer
Still not convinced to up your intake? What if I told you that eating more fiber could help you lower your risk of dying from pretty much any cause (unless you do something silly, like not wear your seatbelt. Fiber can’t help you with that one).
In a 2014 meta-analysis including 17 studies over 17 years (oh, and almost 1 million subjects FYI), those who ate the most fiber were 16% less likely to die than those who ate the least fiber.
Plus, fiber helps you poop. So there’s that.
Tips for Eating More Fiber
Want to know the true answer to the question, “Am I getting enough fiber?”?
The most accurate way to know is to track your food intake for a few days in an app like MyFitnessPal. Be sure to include everything you eat, and to weigh/measure portion sizes (please note: I do NOT recommend tracking for anyone with a history of disordered eating).
If tracking isn’t your jam, you can just write down everything you eat in a day and google search the fiber content of each food.
But friend, no matter how you assess your own baseline fiber intake, prepare to be shocked. I do this for my job and I have to be really, really deliberate about getting enough fiber.
So, how can you make sure you get enough?
- Make a list.
If you want to eat more fiber, you gotta know which foods have lots of it!
Here’s a handout that provides a few of our favorite high-fiber foods, and you can get a more extensive list here!
Once you know which foods pack a fiber punch, make a list of your favorites and add a few to your grocery list (and psst: Don’t overlook frozen vegetables if budget is a concern)!
- Plan, plan, plan.
Remember how I said I have to be deliberate with my fiber intake? The ONLY way I hit my goal consistently is to plan.
Because I’m a data nerd, I enjoy counting macros most of the time. So my planning involves always working one day ahead on MyFitnessPal. Most days, I input my meals and snack for the next day and then play with the foods and portion sizes until I hit my goal.
Do you have to be that type A? No. You can make great progress on your fiber intake by simply choosing more high-fiber foods from the list above. You can also look for opportunities to swap out your usual snack choices (like chips) for a higher-fiber snack (like bean chips, popcorn, or nuts).
- Ease into it.
There are lots of ways people fall back into their old, fiber-deficient ways. But there are few ways that are quicker and more dramatic than fiber-induced GI distress.
As good as fiber is for your body, it will make you MISERABLE if you increase your intake too quickly (and, it’ll make the people around you miserable as well, if you catch my drift).
If you discover you’re not getting enough fiber, you’ll need to slooooowly add more high-fiber foods. I suggest adding one serving of a high-fiber food on day one, and eating that same amount of fiber every day for five days as tolerated. If you’re feeling pretty good after five days, add another serving and wait another five days. You’ll repeat this process until you’ve reached your target.
And FYI, higher fiber intake can totally backfire if you’re not drinking enough water. I recommend at least half of your body weight in ounces.
Am I Getting Enough Fiber?
Based on observational data, I feel pretty comfortable assuming that you might not be getting enough fiber.
If that’s the case, one of the best ways to increase the amount of fiber in your diet (AND to improve your health) is to plan your fiber intake out in advance. At a minimum, doing this for a couple of weeks can help you to at least do a little better and have a better sense of what you need to eat to come closer to your goals.
But if you consistently struggle to hit your goals, you might benefit from some 1:1 coaching! Click here to schedule a free 15-minute exploratory call.