Plant based foods come in a variety of forms, shapes, sizes and even taste but one thing that they have in common is that they are good sources of fiber. Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. Studies have found that those who consume a high fiber diet have reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and better gastrointestinal health. It is estimated that only 5% of adults consume the daily recommended allowance of fiber. This is unfortunate because foods that naturally contain fiber are nutrient dense and are packed with other health promoting properties.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is a type of indigestible carbohydrate. Most carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugar molecules called glucose, which your body then absorbs and uses as energy. Fiber cannot be broken down into sugar molecules and passes through your gut undigested. Because your body does not digest fiber, it doesn’t provide calories.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water forming a gel like material. This gel-like substance can help prevent blood glucose spikes and lower your “bad” cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber sources include barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, it pulls water into the colon making stools softer and easier to pass, which could translate to bowel regularity and gut health. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, and vegetables such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes. Don’t stress about which types of fiber are in which foods, most foods have both types of fiber but are usually richer in one type than the other.
How much fiber do we need?
Women should aim for about 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should target about 38 grams. If you are not hitting the fiber quota, choosing snacks that are high in fiber is an easy way to start increasing your fiber intake. To figure out if a snack is high in fiber look at the %DV (percent daily value) in the nutrition label. 20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high. If this snack has 20% DV fiber per serving then you know this is a high fiber snack. BeBOLD bars have 5 grams of fiber which is 18% DV fiber!
Benefits of fiber at every meal
Fiber contributes to your health in so many ways! In nutrition there is no magic pill but you can make an argument that fiber comes close. Studies have shown that fiber plays an important role in improving blood glucose, gut health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Another easy way to make sure you are including fiber at every meal is to use The Plate Method, which includes filling ½ of your plate with non-starchy vegetables , ¼ of your plate with carbohydrates and ¼ of your plate with proteins.
Let’s briefly discuss the mechanisms behind the benefits of including fiber at every meal.
Improving blood glucose
As mentioned before, soluble fiber attracts water and forms a gel which slows digestion and the rate of sugar being absorbed in the bloodstream. This may prevent blood sugar spikes and drops keeping your blood sugar in range.
Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, all foods high in fiber, lays the foundation for a healthy gut. Fiber is indigestible but the good bacteria in our gut loves to feast on it and it serves an important role in fueling all the important processes gut bacteria plays in the body.
Cholesterol lowering effects
Bile acids, which aid in the digestion of fat and absorption of fat soluble vitamins, attach to fiber and get excreted. This reduces the amount of bile acids reabsorbed from the intestines so the body needs to make more bile acids and uses cholesterol to do this.
Now that you know a little bit more about fiber and the benefits of including it at every meal, stock your kitchen with great go-to fiber rich foods like BeBOLD bars, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes because it is time to have some fun in the kitchen!
Mariana Dineen MS, RD, CDN, LD, LDN is a registered dietitian and the founder of Elemento Health. Mariana was born and raised in Mexico but currently lives in Chicago with her husband and 3 children. Her mission is to change the nutrition landscape and make an impact on the health outcomes of Hispanics by providing culturally authentic nutrition care.