Think you need a dietary supplement to add fibre to your diet? Think again. There are hundreds of delicious high fibre foods you can eat to naturally bolster your fibre intake while improving your overall health. Here are some tips to help you eat more fibre!
You’ve likely heard that women need at least 25 grams of fibre daily. But do you know how to get more fibre in your diet, why you need fibre, and what foods are the best sources of dietary fibre?
Why fibre is important
Fibre, a nutrient once associated with powder supplements aimed at older populations, is now making the rounds as one of the latest “It” nutrients. Food manufacturers are adding it to everything from white bread to Froot Loops. Assumably, this is because consumers are becoming increasingly aware of fibre’s health benefits and are demanding it; however, most people have little idea what it actually does in the body.
When we understand how dietary fibre functions after we’ve eaten it, it starts to make sense that we can eat almost unlimited quantities of foods rich in fibre without gaining weight.
What is Fiber?
Found only in plant foods, fibre is a polysaccharide (carbohydrate) that cannot be digested and absorbed by humans. It comes in two forms: soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble (cannot dissolve in water). Soluble fibre ferments in the large intestine before passing and therefore can contribute an insignificant number of calories to the diet; insoluble fibre passes through the digestive tract virtually unaltered. Soluble fibre is found in foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and some grains like oats and barley, while insoluble fibre is found in whole grains, nuts and seeds, and the skins of fruits and vegetables.
Soluble fibre vs insoluble fibre
There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Both types of fibre offer distinct health benefits and are equally important for a well-functioning body.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water. In the body, it turns into a gel and works to slow digestion. It may also help to lower cholesterol, which aids in the prevention of heart disease, and to manage glucose levels, which is essential in the prevention and management of diabetes. Soluble fibre is found in oats, citrus fruits, apples, barley, flax seeds, and legumes.
Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water. It speeds up digestion by adding bulk to stools. This type of fibre is found in nuts, whole grains, vegetables, and wheat bran. Insoluble fibre is helpful to those who suffer from constipation.
Because fiber contains no calories, takes longer to digest and makes you feel fuller longer, a high fiber diet may help with weight control or weight loss. Foods high in fiber also take longer to eat and require more energy to digest, which equals more calories burned.
Daily recommended fibre
According to a report filed by the Food and Nutrition Board, the recommended daily intake (RDI) of fibre for adults under 50 is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. For men and women over 50, the RDI drops to 30 grams and 21 grams, respectively. Because fibre is found in so many foods, it’s actually quite easy to increase your fibre intake and to reach the RDI. You can incorporate food containing fibre and food groups into your diet, with about one fourth coming from soluble fibres.
Health benefits of fibre
There are many benefits of eating foods that contain fibre including digestive health, cardiovascular health, and weight lost.
Dietary Fiber and Digestive Health
Perhaps the best known benefit of fibre consumption, fibre adds bulk, or roughage, to food and therefore is the nutrient responsible for pushing food swiftly through the digestive tract. Insoluble fibre plays more of a physical role, since by moving food along it can help ease constipation and produce regular bowel movements.
Soluble fibre, on the other hand, plays more of a chemical role: as it ferments, it absorbs water, turning it into a gelatinous substance that traps sugars and slows the absorption of glucose, thus stabilizing blood sugar levels (more on this below). It also is known to balance pH levels in the intestines, which may reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Cardiovascular Benefits of Eating More Fibre
Consumption of soluble fibre has been linked to the lowering of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Simply put, soluble fibre slows absorption of cholesterol-raising fats (like saturated fats, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol) by moving it out of the body via the intestines. Because high cholesterol is the culprit in arterial blockage, keeping LDL and total cholesterol levels low is a smart strategy for warding off heart disease.
Additionally, because eating soluble fibre can help keep blood sugar levels down and therefore reduce insulin production (and subsequent insulin resistance), it has been linked to the prevention of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Is fibre good for weight loss?
A diet rich in fibre can aid in weight loss, whether directly or indirectly. First, foods rich in fibre tend to be high in water and low in calories, so eating foods like vegetables and legumes in place of refined carbohydrates or saturated fat is an excellent way to reduce overall calorie intake. Second, the bulk in these foods makes you feel full. Think of how your stomach feels after you’ve eaten a whole apple—you may have only consumed 60-80 calories, but there’s not much room in there for more.
Finally, because of the blood-sugar-reducing effects of fibre consumption, you’ll be less likely to experience blood-sugar spikes and lows, which cause you to crave more carbohydrates and overeat late in the day.
Fibre rich foods
Here’s a list of foods rich in both kinds of fibre to help you meet your daily quota of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men:
Sources of Soluble Fibre
- Beans like soybeans, black beans, and garbanzos
- Lentils like peas
- Grains like oats, oatmeal, barley, and rye
- Vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and potatoes
- Fruits like apples and pears
- Supplements from sources such as psyllium seed husk
Sources of Insoluble Fibre
- Grains like whole wheat flour and wheat bran
- Nuts like almonds
- Seeds like flaxseed
- Skins of fruits and vegetables like apples, tomatoes, zucchini, and potatoes
Best high fibre foods
Here are some examples of high fibre foods that can be easily added to your diet:
Which fruits are rich in fibre: Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries: all excellent sources of fibre and all delicious. Of the berries, raspberries are the highest in fibre, with 8 grams per cup. Peaches, pears, and apples are also high fibre fruits, with about 5 grams each. Leave the skin on the fruit to increase its fibre content and to lower the risk of developing colon cancer.
Vegetables rich in fibre: Eat one artichoke or a single cup of peas and you’re about one third of the way to reaching your RDI. Other high fibre vegetables include broccoli, sweet corn, brussel sprouts and carrots, each containing 4 to 5 grams per cup.
Grains: When it comes to grains, a quick way to up your fibre intake is to switch from white rice, breads, and pastas to brown rice and whole grains. Just one cup of whole-wheat spaghetti contains 6.2 grams of fibre. That’s double the fibre you’ll find in white pasta. Not only are whole-grain foods higher in fibre, but they also contain nutrients like iron and vitamin B. Try adding other high fibre grains into the mix, like bran, oatmeal, and popcorn.
Legumes: Some of the highest fibre foods around are found in the legume family. One cup of lentils packs 15.6 grams, while a cup of split peas offers 16.3 grams. Other high content contenders include baked beans, black beans, and lima beans. Get creative by topping your salad with a cup of lentils or adding some peas to your favourite soup recipe.
Seeds and Nuts: Flax seeds and sesame seeds are a quick, flavourful, and healthy addition to almost any meal. Sesame seeds taste delicious in stir-fries and salads, while flax seeds add fibre and flavour to oatmeal, cereal, or muffins. When it comes to nuts, almonds, pistachios, and pecans each contain around 3 grams per ounce. Nuts add great flavour to most recipes, so get creative and throw some nuts into your next batch of baked goods for extra nutritional value.
Chocolate: Not only is chocolate delicious, it’s also high in fibre. In fact, both dark chocolate and cocoa powder are rich in fibre, iron, and potassium. Next time you indulge in a square of dark chocolate, feel good about the health benefits of the 4.8 grams of fibre you’re consuming.
As you begin adding new high fibre foods to your diet, be sure to drink lots of water. High fibre foods absorb water, so it is important to drink at least eight glasses of liquid per day. It’s also a good idea to begin adding fibre to your diet slowly. Increasing fibre intake too rapidly can lead to uncomfortable side effects like bloating and gas.