(Updated March 27, 2023)
Dear Coach: This is embarrassing, but let’s just say that I have a hard time eliminating food from my system. I notice a lot of TV commercials for fiber supplements, and I wonder if this is something I should consider. What are your thoughts? (name withheld)
Dear Nameless: You’re on the right track by wanting to increase your fiber; however, the best way to do that would be to simply eat more plants. And here’s why…
Fiber is found exclusively in plant foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, starches, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds). There is no fiber in meat, dairy, coffee or baked goods. During my nutrition classes, I sometimes ask this question: which has more fiber: one egg, one glass of milk, or 3 oz. of tuna? It’s a trick question, because there is NO fiber in dairy, fish or other animal foods.
Two Types of Fiber – Soluble and Insoluble.
Fiber is the part of the plant-based carbohydrate that our bodies can’t break down, so it passes through the body undigested (cleaning out our digestive system, easing bowel movements, and flushing cholesterol and excess hormones out of the system).
Soluble (dissolves in water) is found in raw fruit (apples, pears, strawberries), oatmeal, lentils, flaxseeds, veggies, bean, legumes, oat cereals, bran and barley. Soluble fiber lowers cholesterol by soaking up excess cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Insoluble fiber (does not dissolve in water) is roughage that scrubs the intestinal walls and keeps bowel movements regular and soft. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains like wheat germ, wild rice, wheat and rice bran, buckwheat, corn meal, millet and whole wheat.
The minimum RDA for fiber is around 32 grams a day. However, less than 3% of Americans are getting that amount. In fact, average Americans are eating less than HALF that amount, around 13-17 grams of fiber daily.
But, in countries where cancer and heart disease are very low, fiber consumption exceeds 45 grams per day. Shoot for at least 45 grams daily! This is easy to achieve when you switch to a whole food, plant based (WFPB) diet. It’s not unusual for WFPB eaters to get 50, 60, or even more grams of health-promoting fiber each day.
The Cost of Eating Fiberless Foods
So what happens when we stick with a fiberless diet with foods such as beef, chicken, fish, hot dogs, cheese, yogurt, processed cookies and snack cakes?
Unfortunately, we’re looking at an increased risk of polyps and diverticulitis, constipation, higher cholesterol and blood sugar levels, an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity…
…plus an increased cancer risk. Fiber carries excess estrogen and other hormones out of our system; hormones that REMAIN in our system if we’re not eating enough fiber.
The Benefits of Fiber
Fiber is ranked as the MOST anti-inflammatory food component! That’s because fiber releases butyrate into the bloodstream, which provides broad anti-inflammatory effects throughout the entire body.
The consumption of high-fiber foods also contributes greatly to a person’s ability to achieve and maintain optimal weight. It’s difficult to over-consume high-fiber foods because they fill us up! A bowl of split pea soup, for example, can have as much as 14 grams of fiber. You’d feel like you were going to explode before you’d go back for seconds.
Weight Loss: For every 14 grams of fiber consumed, calorie intake is reduced by about 10%, so weight loss can occur without hunger, deprivation, or will power. Beans, legumes (such as split peas, chickpeas, lentils, and whole grains are wonderful sources of fiber). Ground flax seed is another great option.
Fiber decreases the risk of arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, cancer, and pretty much any inflammatory disease. It relieves constipation, lowers cholesterol, improves gut health, and bolsters the immune system. It removes excess estrogen and hormones, and protects against breast and prostate cancer. What – is – not – to – LOVE about fiber?
Another benefit is that in addition to feeding our good gut bacteria and preventing constipation, a high-fiber diet reduces the risk for infections that result from taking antibiotics, steroids and other drugs that destroy beneficial bacteria.
What about Fiber bars and Fiber cereals?
These products contain “functional fiber” (man-made fiber), but they do not deliver the same benefits as the fiber in whole foods. Functional fibers are non-digestible carbohydrates that are isolated from foods.
On a food label they appear as maltodextrin, polydextrose, and cellulose. Cellulose is a functional fiber that comes from oat hull fiber, wheat fiber, pea fiber, soy fiber and cottonseed fiber. Functional fibers are not the same as dietary fiber consumed in foods like vegetables, grains, and legumes.
If you’re new to plant-based eating, some professionals recommend to increase your fiber intake slowly at first. Some folks have stomach distress when consuming too much fiber at first; but others have no problems at all. Remember, fiber is ONLY found in plant foods, but some plants have higher fiber than others. If you need a fiber chart, please contact me (or you can simply Google it).
“Lack of Fiber” is one of the Three Big Food Mistakes covered in this free class. Take a look to discover the other two mistakes! Then book a complimentary call with me if you need help with structuring a diet to include lots of delicious, high-fiber foods.