Fiber: The Missing Piece in Your Diet
The average American doesn't consume enough fiber. Program Director for Lifestyle Medicine Keri LeCompte wants to see that change. Learn about why fiber is essential, its health benefits, and how to increase your intake in this article.
When we spoke to Program Director for Lifestyle Medicine Keri LeCompte about how to best approach grocery shopping, there was one thing she could not talk enough about - fiber. So, we decided to dedicate an entire article to talking about why fiber is essential, its health benefits, and how you can increase your fiber intake.
“I often joke that dietary fiber is the fountain of youth,” says Keri. “Fiber can add years to your life and more importantly, life to your years.”
Keri is a double board-certified pharmacist and lifestyle medicine diplomat through the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. She also carries a certification through e-Cornell for plant-based nutrition education. Throughout her nearly 10 years with Blue Cross, Keri has worked to bring lifestyle medicine initiatives, education, and evidence-based programs to the members and providers we serve.
What is Fiber?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is found only in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts. Unlike other carbohydrates, fiber cannot be digested or absorbed by the body. Instead, it passes through the digestive system relatively intact, providing numerous health benefits along the way.
Health Benefits of Fiber
Promotes digestive health: Fiber is essential for maintaining regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. It helps to bulk up the stool and make it easier to pass, reducing the risk of hemorrhoids and other digestive problems.
Reduces the risk of heart disease: A diet high in fiber has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease. Fiber also helps to regulate blood pressure and reduce inflammation in the body, both of which are important factors in maintaining heart health.
Helps control blood sugar: Fiber slows down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream, which can help to prevent blood sugar spikes and dips. This is particularly important for people with diabetes, as it can help to manage their blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of complications.
Aids in weight management: High-fiber foods are filling, but low in calories. Fiber also slows down the digestion of food, which can help to reduce cravings and prevent overeating. "So, by filling your plate with fiber-packed foods, you can eat more and still lose weight,” says Keri.
How to Increase Your Fiber Intake
The average American consumes roughly 10-15 grams of fiber per day. Based on available evidence, Keri recommends trying to increase your fiber consumption to 40 grams per day.
Here are some tips for increasing your fiber intake:
Eat more fruits and vegetables: Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal. These foods are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals - and low in calories.
Add legumes to your diet: Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas, are an excellent source of fiber, protein, and other essential nutrients.
In general, the darker the vegetable or fruit, the higher the fiber (and antioxidant) content. High fiber choices include carrots, beets, broccoli, collard greens, artichokes, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries. “If you don't like certain fruits and vegetables, just stick to the ones you do like and eat more of them,” says Keri. “There’s no need to force yourself to eat certain fruits and veggies you don't like - eating should be enjoyable.”
Choose whole grains: Swap refined grains for whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat bread and pasta. Whole grains are higher in fiber and provide longer-lasting energy.
Snack on nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are high in fiber, healthy fats, and protein. They make an excellent snack and can help to keep you feeling full between meals.
“Try to avoid fiber that comes in a bottle, capsule, or supplement form,” says Keri. “Dietary fiber (that contains both soluble and insoluble fiber) comes from whole foods and your body will thank you for avoiding the drug store supplement aisle and sticking to the produce aisle at your local grocery store.”
Next time you are meal planning or grocery shopping, we hope you will keep fiber (or “the fountain of youth” as Keri refers to it) in mind!