Only 5% of men and 9% of women are getting the recommended daily amount of fiber in the United States. That’s almost 90% of the population not consuming enough fiber! To put this into perspective, in 2017–18 most Americans averaged 8.1 grams of fiber for each 1,000 calories, or just 58 percent of the recommended 14 grams per 1,000 calories. Insufficient fiber intake is associated with a myriad of chronic diseases. Let’s dive into what fiber is, why it is so important, and how you can get more of it in your diet!
What is fiber?
Fiber is a nutritional term that is used to describe parts of plants that when eaten are not absorbed by the body. So fiber is essentially what passes through your digestive system when eating plants. There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the gut. This substance then helps to slow digestion and can slow the absorption of certain macronutrients like fats, cholesterol and carbohydrates. Over time, eating soluble fiber can lower cholesterol levels and improve insulin sensitivity by allowing for the slower absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. Yes, regular consumption of soluble fiber can lower the risk of developing heart disease. Soluble fiber also acts to feed beneficial gut bacteria, which are responsible for the breakdown of food into digestible pieces that can then be absorbed by the body. You can find soluble fiber in fruits, oats, and legumes.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, and therefore makes up the bulk of what passes through the intestines. This type of fiber can help increase gut motility by moving the contents of the intestines along. For this reason, insoluble fiber can help prevent constipation and infrequent bowel movements. When eaten regularly, insoluble fiber can help to prevent other colon issues like hemorrhoids or even colon cancer. Insoluble fiber is found in vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
The many essential benefits of fiber
Both types of fiber are necessary for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients as well as elimination of waste. Fats, hormones, and cholesterol that have been processed by the liver are excreted into the digestive system via the gallbladder. Once these fatty compounds are present in the digestive tract, fiber can now trap these substances and move them down the digestive tract to the colon, where they can be eliminated from the body. Though the mechanisms are not well understood, it is believed that this prevention of reabsorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream from the intestines is how fiber can help to lower cholesterol levels. This is also one of the ways that toxins are eliminated from the body, through fibers prevention of reabsorption. Our bodies are constantly detoxifying not only from external microorganisms but also internal processes.
Diets that are largely devoid of fiber can result in metabolic dysfunction and a variety of chronic diseases. Some studies have even shown that low fiber intake is correlated with mortality. As mentioned above, fiber has an important impact on gut bacteria, which can then positively affect the body’s metabolism, how it responds to inflammation, and regulation of appetite. The addition of fiber to the diet also contributes to the sensation of fullness after a meal, which can help with weight management. This ties into our ability to eat mindfully by regulating our guts telling our brains that we’re full!
Struggling for ideas of how to incorporate more fiber? Here are some tips.
The easiest way to get more fiber in your diet is simply to reach for more plants! Whether it’s a handful of nuts, a snack of carrots and celery with nut butter, or having that side salad with your meal, it’s easy to start incorporating more fiber into your daily life.
Our friends at Organic Pharmer also have a great selection of delicious and convenient healing products, created from clean-sourced whole foods, that have fiber. Many of their beverages are also rich in fiber. The Organic Pharmer beverage Alpha Green contains insoluble fiber in the form of dandelion juice and also burdock infusion. Both of these plants are rich in a fiber called inulin which is a potent prebiotic, helping to keep your gut bacteria fed and healthy.
Smoothies are a great way to supplement fiber in your diet (read more here for recipes and ideas on smoothies). The Organic Pharmer Defense+ smoothie contains insoluble fiber from blueberries and banana, while the Trainer and Marathon protein shakes have both soluble and insoluble fiber from ingredients like kale, banana, sunflower and hemp seeds, and almond butter.
Whole grains are also a great source of fiber, specifically the bulk type that keeps digestion and elimination regular, so remember to add in baked goods that are full of whole grains. Organic Pharmer has excellent food options here, too – from granola, to bread, protein bars, oat bars, and even vegan cheese, all their baked goods are made with whole food items like almonds, sesame seeds, oats, hemp, and chia, all without harmful preservatives. The Organic Pharmer bread contains extra soluble fiber as well from the use of psyllium husk, which is the same ingredient used in many fiber supplements like Metamucil.
Soups are also a great way to get your daily dose of fiber. Cooking essentially does some of the work of digestion for you, by starting to break down foods before they even enter the body. It’s for this reason, as well as because soups are full of hydrating liquids, that we often reach for soup when we’re sick or not feeling our best. When you don’t have the time, or don’t feel like making your own, try the Organic Pharmer blended soups like Curried Cauliflower or Butternut Lentil Bisque, or chunkier soups like Tunisian Tomato, French Lentil, and Tuscan White Bean, all of our soups are rich in fiber, and highly digestible.
There are many choices available to us when we are deciding what to eat, and an easy way to head in the direction of health is to incorporate more fiber into our diets. It’s good to remember that fiber is found in plants and plant-based foods, and even incorporating these foods in small amounts can drastically change our digestion in the short-term, and our metabolism in the long-term. So start increasing your fiber intake, and see how it benefits your digestion and your body as a whole.
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About Author: Stephanie is the current fulfillment director and kitchen supervisor for Organic Pharmer. She studied Neuroscience at University of California, Irvine before studying Naturopathic Medicine for 2 years at National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. She also spent 3 years studying East Asian Medicine at the same university.